Directors: John Maloof and Charlie Siskel
Certificate: 12 A
Cast: John Maloof, Vivian Maier, Phil Donahue, Mary Ellen Mark
Running Time: 1hr 23mins
Plot: Artsy documentary which pieces together the life of mysterious street photographer Vivian Maier, a deceased French nanny who posthumously became an internationally renowned artist.
It’s easy to edit someone else’s work, addicting too, especially so if your author is dead and there’s nobody around to tell you ‘no’. In 2009, curiosity driven biographer John Maloof found himself in this exact editorial position when, after a random auction purchase, he discovered his newly purchased mystery box to be filled with thousands of undeveloped black and white photographs. Having observed a strong viral response from the few photos that he scanned up online, Maloof tracked down the remainder of Vivian Maier’s collection, including films and voice recordings, going as far as digging up her death record and inheriting her incinerator-bound belongings.
‘I wish so badly that I could give her money for all of this’; Maloof seems genuinely fascinated in the history and personality of the films subject, always delving deeper and uncovering bizarre accounts of Maier’s reclusive and compulsive behaviour from ex-employers and adults formerly child-minded by her. Talking heads can be dull even under ideal circumstances, and Finding Vivian Maier has more than its due of kooks and ‘Kathy Bates in Misery’ types casting aspersions on Vivian’s probable mental disorders and sadistic ‘dark streak’. Maloof dwells on this dribble for longer than he should, showing too little of Maier’s stunning collection of photos of which there are apparently hundreds of thousands.
Maloof never manages to find out or even reasonably hypothesise as to why Maier spent decades of her life taking photographs and never showed them to a single soul, but one segment scrawled in one of her many private letters gives him the justification he needs to continue producing the film and exposing her body of work in galleries across the world. A couple of art historians –and, for some reason, Tim Roth – appear to share their appreciation for someone who is now ranked among the most skilled, intelligent and politically aware photographers of the 20th century.
Below are some choice examples of Vivian Maier’s photography.