If you’re the type who sticks around after a movie to read the credits, you’ll know it takes more than one village to make a feature-length film. Ten or even 20 villages is more like it. Among the villagers are people with the title of “storyboard artist” and “film researcher,” although, like many artisans in the digital world, they are a disappearing breed. “Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story” is a documentary that sheds light on two such professionals who dedicated themselves to the art.
Harold and Lillian Michelson made vast contributions to American cinema for more than 50 years. Harold drew storyboards and worked on production designs that later became some of the most iconic scenes in movie history — that scene from “The Graduate” with Anne Bancroft’s shapely leg and Dustin Hoffman in the background? That was Harold’s work. Meanwhile, Lillian researched the details of film stories to make them plausible. Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” would not have been made without her exhaustive research on breeds and flight patterns. She was so entrenched in her work that she bought a library so she could immerse herself in research more fully. “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Chinatown” and “Rumblefish” are among the huge number of titles on her resume.
For all that, no one outside the Michelsons’ immediate circle had ever heard of them, but Hollywood paid them tribute in its own way, most notably in “Shrek 2” (2004) when they appeared as animated characters King Harold and Queen Lillian. And now, filmmaker Daniel Raim has devoted an entire documentary to the pair.
“Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story” opens in Tokyo on May 27, two years after Raim completed it.
“It’s not a blockbuster, so the time lag doesn’t really matter,” he tells me. “They were an extraordinary couple, so much a part of Hollywood and also the most un-Hollywood-like people I’ve ever met. They didn’t crave the spotlight. They had no ego. Initially, I thought I was making a documentary about two unsung heroes, but they turned out to be much more than that. They were two unbelievably unique individuals and they brought an atmosphere to Hollywood that no one could duplicate.”
Japanese directors are known for drawing their own storyboards, and Akira Kurosawa is renowned as an illustrator and painter. Kurosawa’s drawings for “Kagemusha” (“Shadow Warrior”) for example, are considered his finest achievement that aren’t moving pictures. Raim himself is fascinated by Yasujiro Ozu (also a storyboard artist) and plans on eventually making a film about the Tokyo-born director.
“I showed ‘Ohayo’ to my 7-year-old son,” Raim says. “He seemed to get it, and to enjoy the funny parts. When you see a film like that, you really appreciate how a movie benefits from a storyboard. There is not one wasteful scene in an Ozu movie, every frame is artistically perfect. It’s breathtaking.”
“Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story” opens in cinemas nationwide on May 27. For details, visit www.haroldandlillian.com.