Something's Gonna Live -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 13:  Actor Benjamin Walker attends the "Bloody Bloody Jackson" opening night after party at Brasserie 8 1/2 on October 13, 2010 in New York City.

Documentaries have been made about such below-the-line Hollywood talent as stunt performers and cinematographers so it's only fitting that one finally got made about production designers. Daniel Raim's "Something's Gonna Live" is absolutely infused with profound admiration and respect for the people who can make real or imagined worlds come alive.

Although the focus is on Hollywood, "Something's Gonna Live" is a natural for festivals everywhere and should be a useful, if not essential, teaching tool in any cinema course.
Raim did make an Oscar-nominated short doc, "The Man on Lincoln Nose," about his professor at the American Film Institute, Robert Boyle, who worked with Hitchcock as a designer on "The Birds" and "North by Northwest" among hundreds of credits. In fact, Boyle still teaches at the AFI -- at age 100!

When Raim located footage of an interview he conducted with famed cinematographer Conrad Hall not long before his passing, footage he believed lost, he decided to embark on a feature about the men -- and indeed they are all men -- who played such a vital role in the Golden Age of the studio system. Good thing he did for only two of the men he focuses on are still with us -- Boyle and cinematographer Haskell Wexler.

Raim's approach is to stage reunions of these "old farts," as they like to call themselves, so they can reminisce. Boyle re-visits Paramount Studios with his pals Henry Bumstead ("To Kill a Mockingbird," "The Sting") and Albert Nozaki ("The War of the Worlds," "The Commandments"). Or Boyle and Harold Michelson ("Star Trek: The Motion Picture," "Catch-22") journey to Bodega Bay north of San Francisco where they worked on "The Birds" together.

Hall attends a film revival with Boyle, then in a later exchange reflects on the demise of the storytelling art in current movies. He says he hopes for a "renaissance" in cinema, although one he doesn't expect to live long enough to see.

So these are neither lectures nor interviews where the old guys could be better pinned down as to what they did and how they did it. The men also, being north of their 80's in most cases, lose the thread of the conversation just as they are about to make a key point.
Yet much of this information can't help leaking into their chats, and Raim cuts away to splendid examples of storyboards, matte paintings, models and drawings attributed to his heroes.

You do wish that a film about the look of movies were better looking. Much of this is beyond Raim's control. He grabs shots as best he can and makes old behind-the-scenes photographs look reasonably good. But lighting is an iffy thing, locations are sometimes drab and tourist shots along Hollywood Boulevard add little if anything.

These are minor flaws in a film that pays tribute to the art of production design before the advent of computer-generated images. At one point, Boyle and Michelson joke that today "The Birds" would have been a simple movie to make -- you just push a few computer buttons rather than having to wrangle hundreds of real birds.

Venue: AFI Fest (distributor)
Production companies: Adama Films
Director/screenwriter/producer: Daniel Raim
Directors of photography: Haskell Wexler, Guido Verweyen, Daniel Raim.
Music: Ori Barel
Editor: Daniel Raim,Jennifer Raim
No rating, 78 minutes