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Case Number 17874: Small Claims Court

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Herb & Dorothy

New Video // 2008 // 89 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // December 10th, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Brendan Babish doesn't know much about documentaries, but he knows what he likes.

The Charge

You don't have to be a Rockefeller to collect art.

The Case

Passion, like the common cold, can be infectious. During the week I spent reading Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief I actually contemplated buying a $250 orchid. When I talk to the barista at my local coffee shop I invariably end up buying a two-pound bag of whole beans. After watching Herb & Dorothy the idea of spending a month's salary on a frayed rope suddenly didn't seem so strange.

Herb & Dorothy is a documentary about Herbert and Dorothy Vogel, two art collectors of modest means who nonetheless assembled one of the best private collections of minimalist and conceptual art in the country. Herbert worked for the post office and Dorothy as a librarian, yet they were somehow able to live in Manhattan and still amass nearly five thousand works, which they kept in their tiny apartment. In one of the more amusing moments (in a documentary that is almost entirely lighthearted and whimsical), Dorothy's sister-in-law talks about visiting their home and being started that seemingly everything inside—even the rug—was a piece of art.

Herb & Dorothy is the debut documentary from director Megumi Sasaki, who met the Vogels at an art event and became intrigued by their impressive collection. To Sasaki's credit, she has created a film you don't have to be a fan of minimalist or conceptual art to enjoy.

As an art philistine I appreciated the brief explanations of the different artistic movements that make up the Vogels' collection. The Vogels themselves also occasionally articulate their appreciation for certain pieces that, to me, seemed incomprehensible (such as an all-white canvas). What was perhaps most enlightening was how two of the most astute collectors in America seemed inspired largely by instinct.

Though both dabbled as artists themselves, and Herbert is an autodidact in art and art history, time and again their most articulate response to a new piece is found in their expressions. Both quietly coo and smile over the new works of an artist they like, and, when asked what it is in particular they enjoy, sometimes one or the other will just shrug and just say something like, "It's beautiful." Still, laconic though these responses might be, their passion for art is evident and contagious.

Sasaki also rounds out her film with interviews of several artists, nearly all of whom have no trouble finding words to express their affection for the Vogels. Though the Vogels never had the means to make an artist rich (and there are some who grumble that artists are being taking advantage of), it seems like the couple's deep appreciation of the work is enough to endear themselves to most everyone they've done business with.

Arthouse Films—which, like the Vogels, has assembled an impressible collection of titles despite limited budgets—has done a commendable job with the DVD. Though this is a low-budget documentary, the picture is bright and clear enough to get lost in Herbert's eyes as they light up whenever he comes across a piece he likes. That said, since we dealing with a lot of colorful artwork, a sharper picture would have been appreciated. The disc also has a nice smattering of extras, which is a pleasure to find in a modest release like this.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 90

Perp Profile

Studio: New Video
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary

Distinguishing Marks

• Deleted Scenes
• Featurettes


• IMDb
• Official Site

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