This charming little movie, with its chatty talking heads and its sweet-natured subjects, offers a glimpse into the lives of two fascinating people whom I had never heard of, and who shared an unlikely life filled with achievements and setbacks, wonder and pain. Daniel Raim's Harold and Lillian looks at storyboard artist and art director Harold Michelson and his wife, researcher and archivist Lillian Michelson.
Harold did concept designs and storyboards for films such as West Side Story, The Ten Commandments, The Birds and The Graduate. He combined an artist's touch with a mathematician's mind, calculating which camera angles and lenses would work best without actually having to be on the set or have the camera present. Lillian, meanwhile, in her efforts to help her husband with his research, built up a massive library of books, magazines and other visual references that became a critical resource for art directors. The Lillian Michelson Research Library, as it came to be known, bounced among places such as the AFI and Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope Studios before eventually finding a long-term home at Paramount (and, later, Dreamworks).
The film intercuts scenes of Harold and Lillian themselves with talking heads such as Coppola, Mel Brooks, Danny DeVito, and film scholar Bill Krohn, attesting to the couple's accomplishments. Though they lived modest lives and have rarely been celebrated outside the industry, both became institutions of a sort in Hollywood during the latter half of the 20th century, mentoring generations of artists and designers and helping some of the greatest filmmakers realize their visions.