Here is a film that provides entertainment, emotion and education about making movies all in an endearing package that is a joy to watch. Director Daniel Raim has looked into the lives of storyboard and production design artist Harold Michelson and his wife Lillian Michelson, known as a phenomenal researcher. Their lives are a reflection of work behind the scenes in the creation of one major film after another. Their efforts should be known by a wider public, and this film aspires to do just that.
As in the title, the couple’s relationship really was a Hollywood love story, and the film warmly explores the personal relationship as part of the total take on the couple. Although Harold is no longer alive, Lillian is still here to reminisce about their marriage and their work. She is charming and witty in the film’s interview with her, and one comes away impressed by her likability and wisdom. In that sense, she highlights the documentary.
Along the way director Raim leads us through the process of how the work of the Michelsons contributed to so many films, and reveals how much they were admired and appreciated in the industry. Their saga is illustrated by clever drawings that heighten the visual impact.
We see the practical results when Harold storyboards shots for such major films as “The Birds” and “The Graduate.” We are able to note the connections between Harold’s designs and how they were used in the final footage. As for Lillian’s research, she worked to provide authenticity for such films as “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Chinatown” and “Annie Hall.” The research library she amassed became a recognized major source for filmmakers.
Included are testimonials to the Michelsons by Francis Ford Coppola, Mel Brooks and Danny DeVito, the latter executive producer of the film. The exploration of the Michelsons’ lives, marriage and work has great appeal as we follow their paths. A very personal element is introduced pertaining to their task of raising an autistic son.
“Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story” is a film with heart and director Raim is owed a debt of gratitude for shining a spotlight on the techniques of filmmaking as well as on the work of those who never became as well known as the stars inhabiting the films on which they labored, but who made such vital contributions to many of the most famous films in Hollywood history. A Zeitgeist Films release. Reviewed April 28, 2017.