Daniel Raim's splendid, deeply moving documentary "Something's Gonna Live," 10 years in the making, takes its title from a remark from its central figure, the eminent production designer Robert Boyle. It is an expression of confidence that the films to which he and his colleagues contributed will live on and on.
Considering that Boyle's friends and co-workers in the film are production designers Henry Bumstead and Albert Nozaki, cinematographers Conrad Hall and Haskell Wexler and storyboard illustrator Harold Michelson and that their combined credits include "North by Northwest, "Vertigo," "The Birds, "In Cold Blood," "The War of the Worlds," "The Ten Commandments," "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" "To Kill a Mockingbird," " Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Letters From Iwo Jima," which Bumstead completed in 2006, the year of his death at 91, the legacy of these men surely will endure.
Boyle, Nozaki and Bumstead were USC graduates in architecture who could not get jobs in their field during the Depression but found work at Paramount. Raim follows them from a reunion luncheon and a visit to their old studio, intercutting clips of their work there. Michelson joins Boyle on a return to Bodega Bay, the principal setting for Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds." It is there that Boyle makes a remark, one of many in the film, that lifts it beyond reminiscence and technical history. He says that "The Birds" had "lots of imperfections" that in today's digital age could have been avoided. To him such flaws allow the audience accessibility, a feeling of humanity and uncertainty. For Boyle the unseen is as important — perhaps even more important — than what is seen.
In conversation with Boyle, Wexler, the only member of the group who is still alive and working today, observes of the remake of "The Thomas Crown Affair" — the two men worked together on the original — that its unwillingness to leave anything to the audience's imagination is symptomatic of what's wrong with too many Hollywood movies today.
The committed artists of "Something's Gonna Live," while grateful for their remarkable careers, are not sentimentalists. What a challenge their body of work presents to current and future filmmakers!
"Something's Gonna Live." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes. At Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills.