Tom RostonIndependent journalist Tom Roston checks in and writes about the world of documentaries in his column, Doc Soup.

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Squishy, Tender Love: Romance in Documentaries

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Poster for the documentary The Loving Story

The Loving Story premiered on HBO earlier in 2012 - on Valentine's Day.

When I set out to write up a list of my favorite romantic documentaries in honor of the airing of Guilty Pleasures on POV starting tonight, I thought it would be a snap. But, unlike the fans of Harlequin romances who are documented in delirious detail in director Julie Moggan‘s film, doc filmmakers are apparently too busy focusing on subjects that are important or relevant (or, of late, entertaining). But what of squishy, tender love?

I have a hard time coming up with a list of personal favorites. Crumb? Nah, that relationship was too weird. March of the Penguins? Yeah, I guess, but that’s a trick answer. Catfish? No way—that relationship was a projection in every sense of the word. Maybe if we counted self-love as romantic, then Madonna’s ego romp with herself in Madonna: Truth or Dare would count.

Oh, wait, OK, I can come up with three you might have heard of (The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, Herb & Dorothy and 5 Films About Christo & Jeanne-Claude) and three more you may have missed (When Strangers Click, The Loving Story and Monica & David).

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill is the story of San Francisco’s bird-loving Mark Bittner, who cares for his favorite creatures who often mate for life. Directed by Judy Irving, the film is a fairly straightforward bird lover’s paradise until it takes things a whole step further by revealing that director Irving and Bittner have fallen in love. Sweet!

Herb and Dorothy Vogel have a relationship that has lasted the test of time, and they’ve also managed to accumulate one of the world’s greatest private collections of art — in their apartment. This tribute to an eccentric art-loving postman and librarian is really a peon to enduring love.

5 Films About Christo & Jeanne-Claude is a compilation of documentaries about another couple that is passionate about art, in this case the public artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude. 5 Films, primarily shot by The Maysles Brothers, is more about the art, but the couple’s relationship is clearly the base of all that they produce.

When Strangers Click is about five relationships that began online, and about the new world of internet relationships.

Director Nancy Buirski’s The Loving Story has more substance. It follows the life of an interracial couple, Mildred and Richard Loving, whose marriage had been outlawed in Virginia and became the focus of a landmark Supreme Court case.

Monica & David got some notice at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2010. It’s the story of a couple with Down syndrome who get married and share their condition.  (Interesting: All three of these latter docs aired on HBO. I guess they like to supplement all that Hookers on the Street material with some true lovin’.)

In my book, none of these films exactly shook the firmament. I’m still looking for The One — that one great documentary about love that makes me swoon…

Tom Roston
Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He comes to us as a ten-year veteran of Premiere magazine, where he was a Senior Editor, and where he wrote the column, Notes from the Dream Factory. Tom was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, GQ, New York, Elle and other publications. Tom's favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi - Godfrey Reggio 2. Hoop Dreams - Steve James 3. The Up series - Michael Apted 4. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 5. Capturing the Friedmans - Andrew Jarecki
  • Nancy Schwartzman

    Great piece, I love romantic docs! You could also consider my short “xoxosms” about two teens who fall in love on Facebook, Skype and gchat. It’s very sweet (short and sweet!). It was also recently featured on the BBC Radio4 “Digital Human Series: Crush”. More about it:

  • RSDiaz

    Check out Seeking Asian Female by Debbie Lum.  What starts out to be a film about “yellow fever” turns into a wonderful love story half way through.

    • Tom Roston

      Well, alright! I went to school with Debbie, so I look forward to checking out SAF.

  • David Van Taylor

    I highly recommend AMATO by Steve Ives, about the couple behind NYC’s smallest opera house.