We watched this documentary about Herb and Dorothy Vogel the other night and it’s stuck with me to the point that I don’t think I’ll be able to write about anything else until I work through my thoughts on this film. In terms of presentation, it’s a fairly straight-forward film: The life history of Herb and Dorothy, a postal worker and a librarian who collected an jaw-droppingly extensive collection of modern art in their apartment.
Only, really, they were art collectors who just happened to have day jobs,not the other way around. They didn’t have children, they didn’t seem to have much in the way of hobbies or interests outside of collecting art (with the caveat that the film may have cut corners in some places). They lived to collect art.
There are more documentaries about people who have unusual obsessions than I could watch, or would want to watch, in a lifetime. Jiro Dreams of Sushi comes to mind, but it’s a very different story. Jiro lived for his job and there was no separating his life from his work. He also came across as damaged by his monomania. That’s not the case at all with the Vogels. Their work and their real lives were partitioned off completely. They seemed like nice, normal folks. Their obsession didn’t seem obsessive. It didn’t drive them like it did Jiro; it seemed to make them happy and give meaning to their lives.
I loved this film. The Vogels were nice, pleasant, interesting people who were able to find something to live for and it didn’t seem to consume them. The best bits are interviews with their friends who cannot get their heads around why art is important to the Vogels and what makes them happy. Their friends suggest that the Vogels could live comfortably in a “normal” house if they’d just sell a few pieces of art to pay for it. Watching this film, you completely understand why the Vogels would never do that, and why having a life like theirs friends’ would never appeal to them.
So, there’s lot of art in this film, and there are a lot of interviews with artists, but it’s not really an movie about art. The Vogels are certainly extreme in their desire to collect art, but not in the way that most documentary subjects are. To me, this was more of a literary film. It was about people who found meaning and happiness on their own terms and couldn’t care less if those terms made sense to other people.
I found it very inspiring. It’s on Netflix, and there are far worse ways to spend an hour or two of your time.