Movie Review: Finding Vivian Maier (2013) #atozchallenge

This is my entry for “F” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “F” documentaries I’ve reviewed are 56 UpFour Days in Octoberand Frank Lloyd Wright.

Title: Finding Vivian Maier
Release Date: September 9, 2013
Director: John Maloof & Charlie Siskel
Production Company: Ravine Pictures

This documentary is a labor of love for John Maloof, a collector who purchased a lot of photographs, negatives, and film at auction, and discovered the work of a brilliant street photographer of 20th century Chicago.  The problem is, no one seemed to know who she was.  Through his investigations, he discovers that Vivian Maier worked primarily as a nanny or housekeeper in the Chicago area from the 1950s to 1990s, taking hundreds of thousands of photographs as well as films and audio recordings.  Maloof attempts to learn something of Maier from the archive she left behind while also interviewing people who knew her, primarily adults who had been cared for by her when they were children.  The picture that emerges of Maier is of someone who was adventurous and clever to find domestic jobs that gave her the free time to explore her photographic art.  Yet there’s also an image of mental illness.  Some of the children she cared for found her loving and fun, while others thought her scary and abusive.  Her strict sense of privacy sometimes bordered on paranoid, and her collection of photographs, letters, and newspapers tipped into hoarding. At the end it’s still very hard to get a sense of who Maier was or why she never released her photos to the world, but the pictures she took are stunning in the depictions of everyday people, particularly the poor and down on their luck.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

This movie is a lesson in the fact that great talent can be found in hidden places.  But it also brings up questions of gender.  Would a man who took odd jobs to support his lifelong passion for photography be considered so odd? Would he have gone his entire life without receiving public attention for his work?

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …: Check out the work of some women photographers who did receive acclaim in their lifetimes in books like Lee Miller’s War or Crosstown by Helen Levitt (the latter’s work is strikingly similar to Vivian Maier’s).

Source: I watched this movie on Netflix streaming.

Rating: ****