Real estate agent John Maloof explains how a trip to a local auction house, in search for old pictures to use for a history book about his neighborhood, resulted in him bidding and winning a box full of old negatives. John goes through the massive quantity of negatives, describes how impressed he is by the quality of the images, becomes quickly determined they are not reverent to his project and just puts them away. That could have very likely had been the end of the story, if the power of the images had not pushed him to fall in love with photography. John confides that his photo hobby quickly motivated him to set up a darkroom and devote large amounts of time printing. As he learned more about photography, he recognized that those negatives he had bought, then stored, were the work of a real master. In an attempt to confirm his suspicion, he selected about 100 images and put them online with the hope that the feedback would confirm his judgement as to the strength of the images.Written by
Lane J. Lubell of Cinemashadow.com
Filmmaker John Maloof stumbles upon a trove of unwanted photos at an auction by a relatively unknown artist named Vivian Maier and this documentary, co-directed with Charlie Siskel, wants to make her well known and just may do so. His Antique Roadshow story becomes the basis for his documentary, Finding Vivian Maier, and it's almost too obvious that this filmmaker wants to create a legend and myth in this well done infomercial for this talented woman. Through interviews and archival footage of her photographic work, we learn little about this eccentric artist's life, she remain an enigma. But her photographic more than fulfills her lasting legacy.
To be honest, the film does not present a well balanced view of the late artist, and is purposely biased in its approach to heralding her fame. But Miss Maier's work, part Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, and Walker Evans, is certainly powerful. Her street photography is quite remarkable with a dark and insightful point of view.
Armed with a Rolleiflex camera, Maier shot over 100,000 photos of street life. Her imagery, mostly head shots of people on the streets of Chicago beginning in the 1960's, is varied and quite accomplished. Her photo journalistic style documents those times well into the 90's era. Her use of shadows and light are particularly effective and help to create a chilling mood with its subjects and their environs.
￼Finding Vivian Maier tries to uncover this artist's personal life, but never achieves that goal, due to conflicting stories by interviewees and the lack of physical evidence left by Maier herself. We take away from the film the fact that she was a private person whose main job was being a full-time nanny, although she may have possibly had severe mentally issues. She was a creative and prolific artist on the side, rarely printing or showing her own work to others. But we also take away from this biography a slightly disturbing feeling that the filmmakers might have an ulterior motive, taking advantage of the artist for purely financial reasons rather than mere admiration of her work. Some details (her early life, her friends and family members, her death) are glossed over instead of examined with any depth or mention.
That said, the filmmakers have assembled a compelling portrait of the photographer and her work is certainly worthy of attention. ￼We may not find the real essence of the artist in the documentary, Finding Vivian Maier, but the journey itself and Vivian Maier's memorable imagery makes for fascinating viewing. GRADE: B
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