Documentary Tells the Romantic Tale of the Enduring and Influential Hollywood Couple you Never Heard of.



To quote one of the few major films of the second half of the twentieth century not cited in this documentary, Hollywood’s default mode is that of a treacherous hive of scum and villainy. One needn’t be up on the numerous high profile industry sex scandals of recent days (with new revelations and accusations piling up nearly hourly at the time of this writing) to know that. Fidelity is a foreign concept; marriages simply do not last.

Flying smack in the face those all-too-common ugly truths of the business, both new and longstanding, is Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story. Tracking the sixty year marriage of enduring below-the-line couple Harold and Lillian Michelson, this chirpy, sweet and squeaky-clean documentary has arrived at just the right time.

Playing squarely to both film buffs and the less intense but nevertheless impassioned TCM crowd, director Daniel Raim has crafted an innocuous yet perfectly honest film. Harold and Lillian offers deeper knowledge of the unseen hands so crucial to the making of movies, while more importantly detailing the more universal struggles in maintaining a marriage amid successful careers.

Harold was a visionary storyboard artist (rarely credited) before eventually ascending Art Department ranks to the highest levels; Lillian was one of the foremost researchers in the business (almost never credited), often exploiting creative channels and connections in the quest for locking in cinematic authenticity. Their resumes include work ranging from The Ten Commandments to Mike NicholsWho’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate to Fiddler on the Roof and Hitchcock’s The Birds and Marnie to Star Trek: The Motion Picture to Terms of Endearment and Spaceballs to Dick Tracy and The Hunt for Red October. On hand to testify are Mel Brooks, Danny Devito, Francis Ford Coppola, and more.

Lillian in her research library, years ago.

With an upbeat aesthetic, a happy little musical score, frequent cartoon images in the style of Harold’s storyboarding technique, and plenty of impressively utilized film clips, Raim’s documentary covers a lot of complex ground in a way that feels anything but. Somehow, Harold and Lillian gets into the weeds of a complex and insular business while being both romantic and honest about the universal ups and down of the central relationship enduring against all odds.

Kino Lorber, as part of their new collaboration with Zeitgeist Films, has released an extras-packed blu-ray that should thrill even the most insatiable film buff appetite. There are three brief installments of “Lillian’s Life Lessons” (one being “never, ever be cruel”), the five minute short Storyboarding ‘The Graduate’ (presented in conjunction with the Criterion Channel), the film’s trailer, a booklet with an interview with Raim, and of particular interest to would-be storyboard artists (if no one else) is a vintage one hour and forty-seven minute videotaped seminar on camera angle projection, given by Harold. While an admittedly dry affair, for certain people the quality of information from this particular voice of experience is worth the purchase of this disc in its own right, and then some. With just a plastic guide, some markers and his imagination, Harold demonstrates the brass tacks pre-computer methods he relied upon in the creation of so many memorable sets and shots. (Not the least of which is the iconic through-the-leg shot from The Graduate, which originated with Harold’s preparatory drawings.)

In a world where it seems that the very denouement of so many Hollywood films – that Love Conquers All! – is the most hypocritical, most phony of all aspects in a town that is legendarily hypocritical and phony, Harold and Lillian shows us that this needn’t be the case. Their bottom line devotion always to one another, Harold demonstrates that however high up the professional ladder one goes, a good marriage is worth fighting for; Lillian meanwhile demonstrates a kind of loving-wife feminism that defies today’s narrower understanding the term. Raim gets both the business and emotion right – not an easy line to walk, though he certainly makes it seem as easy as all that.

There have been and still are good people in Hollywood, working hard and with personal integrity both in their art, their crafts, and their relationships. Not everyone there is a Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey, or whomever the current villain of the moment is. Harold and Lillian shows us that amid all the stories, love is still alive.