Herb and Dorothy
I don’t often re-watch documentaries, but today’s movie, Herb & Dorothy is a worthy exception to that rule. On the surface it’s a simple story about a couple of devoted art collectors, scratch the surface, and its an inspiring tale of how ordinary people can do something truly extraordinary, dig deeper still, and its a love story, told through fine art. That, or its a film about a couple of obsessive horders.
Herbert and Dorothy Vogel live in a tiny one-bedroom Manhattan apartment. Now well into their reitrement, Herb had a career as a clerk for the US Postal Service, while Dorothy was a librarian. What makes them extraordinary is that despite their thoroughly working-class income, they have, though decades of relentless, even obsessive passion, assembled one of the world’s finest collections of fine art.
Director Megumi Sasaki uses extensive and interviews and footage of Herb and Dorothy themselves, along with interviews with around a dozen top artists, art critics, and museum curators, to really create a sense of who the Vogels are, and exactly how and why they were able to amass such a collection. Artists, being artists, tend to be rather eccentric, and I’ll admit that some of the interviewees were a little grating to me, but this too helped frame the portrait of who these unassuming collectors were and are.
On one level, the story is a little bit sad; a childless has devoted their entire lives to accumulating objects, pack so fill their tiny apartment to the ceiling. Yet it’s clear that this is a true passion, and one that has, through a combination of in-depth knowledge, and good taste, lead to a collection that is revered for its quality as well as for its breadth. I’d defy anybody not to experience a feeling of joy when the film shows Herb hunched over, intently staring at a piece of art.
I suppose it’d be natural for me to compare this film to The Art of the Steal. That film is certainly more slickly produced, and, frankly, prettier. However, Herb & Dorothy is, by far, the better film. This film is honest, and it’s filled with a sense of joy, a amazement, and, yes, even sadness. It’s a true story of fantastic and unlikely, but entirely human, people, and it’s well worth seeing.