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: ****

17 thoughts on “Movie Review: Finding Vivian Maier (2013) #atozchallenge

  1. Liam, you raise some interesting points here and I’d be interested to see Vivian Maier’s photography. Here in Australia, we had a female photographer Olive Cotton who found fame early on but married and move to Cowra and couldn’t afford to process her films for many years and suddenly reappeared in 1985 when she started processing them. An extraordinary story. Here’s a link:
    My theme for the challenge is Writing Letters to Dead Artists and for letter F I did Australian impressionist, Frederick McCubbin. Here’s a link:
    Best wishes,


  2. Great questions there, Liam. Would be wonderful for a discussion group. Maybe you should start one! I think we could add mental illness to the picture of really creative and talented people, too. Makes me wonder if it takes being at least a little eccentric to bloom that way…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I adored this film! So well constructed and executed. It played like a mystery as we follow the trail to discover who was Vivian Maier. Thanks for posting about it!


    1. Yes, and I enjoyed how the music would swell when Maloof made a discovery, like the letter that showed that Vivian Maier wanted to make her photographs public.


  4. I watched this documentary about a year ago and fell in love with this mysterious photographer. I was inspired to pick up my camera and try to capture life around me (although I tend to prefer inanimate objects to total strangers)


    1. Thanks for a comment! I’m totally shy about taking pictures of strangers. And as a middle-aged man I would probably be judged poorly for it. But I do try to take pictures of things that capture my eye around me when I can.


  5. This is my interesting. Specially the questions you have raised. So pertinent today. I will watch the film once I’m back home.


    1. Thanks for the comment. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve watched so far (some more than others). I keep learning about other documentaries I’d like to watch next, but I’ve only got 26 letters in the alphabet, so they’re going to have to wait.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I neglected to mention this in my review, but for all that this movie suggests that Maier was obsessive and had a hoarding problem, there are some interesting parallels in Maloof in the drive he has to learn about Maier’s life and how he keeps all of her stuff in what looks like a pretty small apartment.

      Liked by 1 person

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