Finding Vivian Maier Review

Part mystery, part drama, part documentary; John Maloof and Charlie Siskel’s Finding Vivian Maier is one of the most intelligent and exciting documentaries to have been released in years. It tells or tries to tell the pieces of the story of street photographer, Vivian Maier, who took 1000’s of photos between the 1950s to 1990s, especially during the times that she lived in Chicago and New York City. But until as recently as 2009, she was still completely unknown throughout the world until soon after her death, when Maloof, a local historian came upon a box of Maier’s photographs in an auction. Soon he become enthralled in Maier’s world and wanted to find more of her work, something that was so delicate, so beautiful and precise and yet not one other person knew of the world that Vivian Maier created and lived in.

Maloof soon sought out more of Maier’s photographs through auctions and sellers and started to piece together her world. He started to scan her work and place it online to see what people’s opinion were and when these pictures captured the hearts and imaginations of those from all around the world, Maloof realised that he had discovered something special. He started to try and find museums for the work but no one was interested so he decided to exhibit it himself, to crowds from around the world who flocked in huge numbers to see the work of this mysterious woman.

With the help of Siskel, Maloof sets about in Finding Vivian Maier to look deeper into the history of the woman who took these amazing photographs. Whilst the first act of the documentary deals largely with the story of facts; what Maloof did when he discovered the photos, who he spoke to and where he went, the rest of the film is much more interested in Maier and her story. Along with the audience, Maloof and Siskel find out that Maier was a nanny to lot of different children, all of whom have similar or conflicting memories on this odd woman. Some remember her being very strict, whilst others think of her a kind woman. Other people they interviewed argued over whether she was French and losing her accent or American and pretending to have an accent. There wasn’t a clear history of this woman, who used to sign her name differently wherever she went. Some called her Miss Maier, others called her Viv but one thing was consistent amongst all those they spoke to; she always had her camera around her neck and was always trying to capture a moment whenever it took her.

Finding Vivian Maier is exciting – that is why this film works so well. The flow never stops and whilst the vast majority is talking heads, Maloof and Siskel intertwine plenty of Maier’s work throughout and really give the audience of the film a chance to explore her photographs for themselves – especially as many still wouldn’t have heard of her. They have carefully edited together and almost manipulated the story to keep the audience entertained, but in this instance, this is highly motivated by the fact that no one really knows anything about Maier. The pair edit conflicting points of view into one sequence, sashaying back and forth between point A and point B, but really never making a concluding statement. But that is fine, it adds to the fun, to the mystery of the entire film and puts the audience in the position of detective.

The film touches briefly on the position of women within culture, but it never delves too deeply for threat of losing momentum of the story itself. Vivian Maier does call similarities to other American female photographers like Diane Arbus or Helen Levitt, all of whom have their own interesting stories that have been told and this film firmly cements Maier as an important artist within her own right. Riveting, compelling and as entertaining as they come, Finding Vivian Maier is a film of discovery like no other and is truly, truly fascinating.

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