50 stiffs in 2010: robert f. boyle
August 12, 2010, 9:10 pm
Filed under: 50 stiffs in 2010

robert f. boyle, art director and set designer, born: los angeles, california (1909 – 2010), photo from “north by northwest” directed by alfred hitchcock.

robert f. boyle is certainly not known by a large percentage of the world, nor do many understand what exactly an art director and production designer do. whenever pictomat watches that annual, and insufferable extravaganza called “the academy awards”, fellow viewers grown when these awards are presented. the academy, with its usual lack of wisdom, chooses movies that are a very showy example of what these artisans do. the more subtle practitioners of these trades have even harder jobs.

mr. boyle happened to work on more “prestigious” hollywood films and so his work, particularly for director alfred hitchcock, tends toward that “showy” side. however, some of his set pieces (and yes, that is part of what a production designer does, besides overseeing costumes, the wallpaper in rooms, and generally the entire look of a film) have become iconic images in american film.

in “north by northwest” boyle was the production designer and responsible for making it appear that cary grant and eva marie saint climb across the face of the presidents on mt. rushmore by using matte paintings, rear project photography, and only the smallest pieces of fabricated presidential heads. one other memorable scene in that same movie is “the crop duster” episode where mr. grant runs across a corn field as a crop duster flies above trying to kill the ever dapper hero. boyle used a mixture of a real and a toy planes and cars in this tense sequence.

boyle took an entirely different track when he used the actual clutter family house where the murders of the family took place when he did production design on the film adaptation of truman capote’s non-fiction crime book “in cold blood”.

if pictomat had to pick a production designer currently working as an exemplary example of a less splashy approach to set and production design, pictomat would choose william chang who has collaborated on every wong kar-wai film. his exquisite recreations of hong kong in the 1970’s made the “mood” of kar-wai’s “in the mood for love” (2000) attain its status by many critics as probably the best movie of this new century. [let’s not forget to credit kar-wai’s incomparable cinematographer christopher doyle, and his actors, tony leung and maggie chung in wong’s tight group of frequent collaborators.]

boyle worked in a different time and place, and  pictomat fears that had he been working on current hollywood films, his work would not be as imaginative or interest as the work he did with master filmmaker alfred hitchcock. the computer imagery used today can make films look overly glossed up. boyle found simple solutions to complex visual problems.


2 Comments so far
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hmmmm …. a pity to be sure but … any details on the Boyle family garage sale?

Comment by J.T.

clutter was the name of the murdered family. perhaps they had a cluttered house, but it is more likely one might find curios like blood spattered wallpaper. does that interest you? perhaps boyle, after working on several hitchcock films, became a connoisseur of such memorabilia. you will have to go to the estate sale and check it out. pictomat thinks you will more likely find parts of lincoln’s nose.

Comment by pictomat

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