Monday, April 24, 2017

Must-see for movie fans and doc lovers -- Daniel Raim's HAROLD AND LILLIAN: A HOLLYWOOD LOVE STORY

Previous to viewing the new documentary, HAROLD AND LILLIAN: A HOLLYWOOD LOVE STORY, TrustMovies had never heard of the husband-wife team of storyboard artist Harold Michelson and film researcher Lillian Michelson, two of the unjustly unsung folk who labored for decades in film-making areas that the Motion Picture Academy has never seen fit to honor.

Written and directed by Daniel Raim, shown at right, the movie certainly honors the two, along with the fields in which they worked. Unless you are already a knowledgeable part of the motion picture industry, you'll come out of this film with a new understanding of exactly what a good storyboard artist and film researcher can contribute to a movie -- from helping a director and editor get exactly the right shots in the right sequence to learning what kind of underwear teenage girls might have worn in turn-of-the-century Russia.

You'll simultaneously be treated to what is quite a beautiful and enduring love story that spans a couple of generations, as you get to know one of these two people pretty well. Harold Michelson has now departed, but his wife Lillian is still going strong, and she makes a delightful, smart, and sometimes very moving narrator of the events told here. (That's she, above, in her research department, and below, in her youth with Harold.)

The two found each other early on, just after Harold, who was older than Lillian, served in World War II. Against the wishes of his family (for Lillian was an orphan, with absolutely no "prospects"), Harold moved out to Hollywood to pursue art jobs, and Lillian soon joined him, and both their careers took a fast jump-start.

Lillian's, however, was soon crushed by conventions of the time. She was fired for being pregnant. The movie never makes any big play for feminism, but it is feminist all the same by virtue of the tale it tells. (The story of the pair's autistic son, and how the Freudian psychology of the day "helped" the family is one for the books. It will have you seething.) One of the particular joys of the documentary is the smart and often adorable and funny animation used throughout, drawn in charcoal, which is what Harold used on his now famous storyboards.

Whether animating Hitchcock, above (the director asked specifically for Harold to do his storyboards on for The Birds), to The Graduate (below), about which after reading the screenplay, Lillian tells us, Harold couldn't understand why folk found the film funny. That's what Mike Nichols with his keen understanding of humor, contributed. Harold's storyboards, it seems, contributed a lot of the film's best visuals. When we see a clip of Nichols accepting his Oscar for direction and thanking the "group effort" that made this possible, you'll be shaking your head white muttering, "Indeed!"

We hear about so many of the films Harold was a part of -- The Ten Commandments is one of the best known -- that by the end of the documentary we're utterly sold on the importance of the storyboard artist. We also come to better appreciate Lillian's research work.

Certain moviemakers -- from David Lynch to Danny DeVito (above) -- are also on hand to sing the Michelsons' praises. Deservedly so. DeVito, especially, is a font of knowledge and fun. Comparing Harold's storyboard art to the finish film (as in Winter Kills, below) -- which the movie often lets us do, is is eye-opening, too.

And because Lillian makes such a lovely companion as she tells us of her life-and-love journey, we hang on every word (her voice -- chipper, chirpy and wonderfully positive -- is an utter delight to hear). By the end of the movie's 94 minutes, we've been educated, surprised, charmed, moved and royally entertained. Can you ask much more from a documentary? Considering both how Hollywood always takes to heart movies about itself (most recently, The Artist and La La Land) and also how very good this new documentary is, I think I see an Oscar contender here.

Distributed via Zeitgeist Films -- a company that doesn't release a hell of a lot of movies, but I am having trouble recalling even one of their films I didn't hugely appreciate -- Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story opens this Friday, April 28. in New York City at the Quad Cinema and on May 12 in Los Angeles, at Laemmle's Monica Film Center, Playhouse 7 and Town Center 5. To view all currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters listed, click here.

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