“Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story” is a documentary about a working Hollywood couple who contributed immeasurably to many Hollywood films. Especially in the case of Harold, you already know their work. You’ve seen it and enjoyed it. You just never knew who was responsible.
Harold Michelson was a storyboard artist and later a production designer. As a storyboard artist, he would take the script and imagine it in visual terms, shot by shot. He would then give these storyboards to the director, who, if he was smart, would just put on film the movie as Harold imagined it.
Here’s one example of Harold’s work that completely floored me. You know the famous scene in “The Graduate,” the one in which Dustin Hoffman says, “You’re trying to seduce me.” Remember the famous shot of Hoffman through Anne Bancroft’s bent leg? That was Michelson’s idea. So was just about every other important shot in the film.
That doesn’t mean that director Mike Nichols didn’t do anything. Nichols controlled the tone and the acting values. (Michelson didn’t realize the movie was a comedy, for example, until he saw it.) Still, the visual aspect of that film was far from insignificant, and yet the man who imagined those visuals has been unknown until now.
The documentary is the story of two careers, but also of a lifelong marriage and partnership. Lillian, who is still alive and appears here in interviews, is a formidable personality who ran a private research library that worked on Hollywood productions. If someone needed to know, for example, what sort of underwear the women in “Fiddler On the Roof” should be wearing, Lillian found the answer.
Anyway, this is a likable documentary that casts light on two respected but relatively unknown people, who made major contributions to film and managed to have a normal life — and in Hollywood, of all places. It’s nice to know such things are possible.
(Opens Friday at the Tivoli.)
‘Harold and Lillian’
Not rated. Time: 1:34.