Utne Reader Film Reviews

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For Art, for Money, for Love
THE ART OF THE STEAL(IFC Films, in theaters and on video-on-demand)
HERB AND DOROTHY(Arthouse Films/New Video; on DVD)
Art has increasingly become a business, two new documentaries reveal as they plumb, respectively, the exploitive and benevolent sides of this enterprise. The Art of the Steal examines how Philadelphia’s power brokers have worked systematically over the years to pilfer one of the world’s most valuable private art collections, the Barnes Foundation. The film unfolds like a political conspiracy thriller, revealing through twists and turns how this never-meant-for-profit educational temple devoted to impressionist and postimpressionist art will now be moved to downtown Philly as a tourist attraction.

If Steal will enrage you, Herb and Dorothy, an adoring portrait of offbeat art collectors Herb and Dorothy Vogel, will put a smile on your face. Journalist Megumi Sasaki looks at the legendary retired postal worker and librarian, who amassed over the years, through charm, foresight, and perspicacity, a multimillion-dollar collection of minimalist and conceptual art–all in their small New York apartment (sandwiched between fish tanks and pet cats). And then they gave it away for free to public museums. Herb is asked at one point, Why give up a fortune? “I didn’t think money was the most important thing,” he replies. “I think the collection is.” –Anthony Kaufman

Rocking in Iran
No One Knows About Persian Cats(IFC Films; in theaters and on video-on-demand April 16)
Before Iranian citizens took to the streets in protest last summer, Kurdish filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi captured the mounting sense of rebellion in No One Knows About Persian Cats, a kinetic docu-fiction about the nation’s underground music scene. The film centers around two young musicians seeking bandmates and illegal passports for a planned European tour. Along the way, Ghobadi takes his handheld camera to basements, shelters, even rooftops and outlying farms to chronicle real-life rockers, rappers, and headbangers singing songs of protest, love, and oppression. Like Medium Cool meets Don’t Look Back, the film is an urgent snapshot of a country and a people trying to break free. –A.K.

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