By Kiki Murai
This is a series we like to call UNCAPPED. A look at Herb and Dorothy behind the film lens. What did director Megumi do to capture the scenes that she did for her first film HERB & DOROTHY? And what can we expect in her new film, HERB & DOROTHY 50X50, due out September 13?
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How many of you have a day job that pay the bills, then secretly lead another life after work that no one knows about? Many of us may relate, but perhaps none have done it quite to the full extent as Herb Vogel.
As you know from Megumi Sasaki’s first film HERB & DOROTHY, Herb spent all of his working hours at the United States Postal Office, for over 30 years until he retired in 1980.
The photos below were taken during a shoot at the post office, which Megumi says was the location in which she had the most difficulty obtaining permission to shoot. She recalls that it took her and the crew several months to get a permit.
Truth was, Herb was not too keen himself about returning to the post office to film a scene for the film, as he had kept his lives completely separate from each other.
But in telling Herb’s story, Megumi hoped to include some kind of visual that would give the audience a clear image of Herb’s life as a postal clerk. There were no photos of him at the post office, thus all she could do was pray for the best. (She had no idea how the shoot would turn out.)
As they entered the post office and walked through the piles and piles of mail, Herb explained what he did everyday for work.
“The post office was about sending mail, to people,” Herb says in his slow, deliberate delivery. “Almost everyday I would work on these cases. And I learned to do it whether I liked it or not.” He pauses. ”I did it.”
As the camera follows him around his former workplace…a documentary miracle happened.
The lovely woman showing Herb around the post office suddenly cries out to a co-worker, ”You remember him?!” And then to Herb, “Oh, see, Libonati remembers you, you see?”
This man, Joseph Libonati, was a young man when Herb worked there, and he was one of the very few people at the post office who knew about Herb’s other life.
“Joe Libonati.” Joe re-introduces himself to Herb.
“Oh my god, Joe!” says Herb.
“How are you? It’s been a long time. You’re retired since 1980? It’s that many years already? My god.”
“Amazing,” says Herb.
Herb and his former postal workers shake hands as others gather around, reminiscing.
“A lot of the guys are gone. A lot of guys retired, but there are a few of us left,” says Joe.
We learn that no one at the post office – except for Joe – knew who Herb really was. No one knew that when he left the post office at 5pm, he and his wife Dorothy had parties and gallery openings to attend almost every night, artist studios to visit, countless works to view and add to their growing contemporary art collection.
They may have pictured him living in a modest one-bedroom apartment. They likely did not imagine that the walls and ceilings of that apartment were covered with art by world-famous artists.
“I worked with hundreds and hundreds of people, and I never found anyone that I worked with that I can truly talk about art,” Herb says. “And I don’t think that it’s my responsibility to force people to like what I like.”
So how did Joe find out Herb’s secret?
Joe explains in the film:
“I had a friend who was an artist at the time and I remember mentioning that I knew this Herby Vogel and he goes, ‘Oh my god, if you could have him look at my work, this would be fantastic.’ And I was like, ‘Herby, you know Herby at the post office?’ Just a total shock.”
But Herb wanted to keep it quiet.
“When I approached him about it, ‘Herby, is this you?’ He was like ‘Keep this quiet, I don’t want anybody know about it’, and so I left it. I respected his wishes.”
Imagine working with a world-class anyone and not knowing about it. But that was Herb’s wish.
“And for over 30 years they never knew anything about my art interest until it was in the papers and on television,” says Herb.
Megumi recently told me what it was like to film this scene.
“We were so lucky to run into Joe that day! It was pure coincidence. We really didn’t plan it.
I never imagined something like that would happen.”
Wonderful call, Megumi.
And that my friends, is how this scene was born.
We miss you, Herb.
Our new film HERB & DOROTHY 50X50 opens in two days at IFC Center in New York City. Join Megumi and Dorothy, as well as special guest artists and curators for the entire weekend!
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