Finding Vivian Maier is superb cinematic exposure

admin | 杭州桑拿
7 Aug 2019

New found fame: Vivian Maier has been dubbed “Mary Poppins with a camera”. Photo: SuppliedFINDING VIVIAN MAIER (PG) ★★★★★ Capitol Manuka
Shanghai night field

As documentaries go, you cannot get much better than this. With a highly talented subject and a story that plays like a thriller, it will be jostling for an Academy Award nomination in January. And if you know nothing about Vivian Maier, keep it that way until you see the film – an extraordinary story about a woman who hid her photography talent from the world.

The film opens in 2007 in Chicago, with auction-house junky John Maloof bidding on a few boxes of old negatives in the hope of finding some historical photographs of the city. Later, as he started examining the work he had acquired – just a small portion of what was sold that day from a garage clearout – he realised that they were photographs of a distinctive nature – taken by someone with a great eye for life on the streets.

Maloof decided to investigate more, and traced the people who had purchased other lots from the sale. He bought everything he could get his hands on and ended up with an astonishing treasure trove of more than 100,000 undeveloped images – mostly black and white stills taken with a Rolleiflex – as well as come colour stills and 8mm movies. Together, the collection documented 40 years of American life on the streets from the 1950s onwards.

Of course, what Maloof really wanted to know was more about the person behind the camera. So, along with starting the daunting task of cataloguing and printing the best of the work, he began to trace clues about the identity of the unknown photographer. And, teaming up with film producer Charlie Siskel, he documented the journey of discovery – one that led them to Vivian Maier, a reclusive and enigmatic nanny who never married and who never threw anything away. It’s also a journey that takes Maloof to France and to the dark recesses of human nature.

There have been some questions raised about Maloof’s intention in making the film: criticism that it is exploitative in nature and helps sell images he now owns. Yet without his efforts it is doubtful any of Maier’s work would have reached our attention, and it is the work – beautifully rendered on the big screen – that fascinates.

Like many outsiders who turn to art, Maier captures a truthfulness and an authenticity we either deny or fail to notice: the sad joy and honest simplicity of moments experienced in public life.

It’s a fascinating story of obsession, art and anonymity, and a captivating portrait of an intriguing woman – sometimes referred to as Mary Poppins with a camera. Don’t miss it.

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