Thursday, April 24, 2014

Review: Finding Vivian Maier

Release date: March 28, 2014
Running time: 83 minutes
Starring: Vivian Maier, John Maloof
Who to see it with: Anyone who likes photography or light detective work


Genius are often breeds eccentricity. This is especially true for artistic geniuses, i.e., Van Gogh. Vivian Maier was a brilliant photographer whose street photography was so good that she is now being recognized as one of the best in the field. Her images are instantly recognizable as amazing work. Even those without an eye for photography can appreciate the composition of her pictures. Strangely, despite her superb framing and amazing eye for subjects, Vivian Maier was an unknown photographer until recently. Maybe part of the genius that gave her the ability to produce amazing works of art also affected her in other ways: she was a pack rat and an insanely private person who never showed her work to anyone.

The documentary starts with a chance event: John Maloof, a young college student writing a history text book, purchases a box of negatives of what look like mid-century, Chicago pictures for his book. However, once he develops the film, he quickly realizes that the photographer responsible for these images has a talent that needs to be shared. John goes online to try and find out more about the mysterious Vivian Maier, but is unsuccessful. And so begins a detective-like story as he tries to track down anyone who knew this cryptic woman.

The documentary itself is fascinating, with an interesting story mixed in with some truly amazing photography. Although Vivian is the star, John Maloof takes center stage as he tries to track down anyone who knew her. There's always a risk with a story like this that the person making he documentary can inadvertently eclipse the subject of the film. John skirts this line, and teeters on the edge at some points, but in the end still ensures that Vivian Maier remains the main character. However, in delving into Vivian's past, the movie gets very personal and exposes many aspects of her life (both known and conjectured) that she probably would not have appreciated coming to light. For a film about someone who was extremely secretive, this can feel a little disrespectful at times. Also, the film does start to drag towards the middle; it definitely didn't feel like an 83 minute documentary. That being said, Finding Vivian Maier is a fascinating film about a truly eccentric photographic genius. It should be seen by everyone, but just maybe in the comfort of your home.

Rent it.

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