Saturday, 14 February 2015


There's a big identity problem at the heart of Finding Vivian Maier, and it draws up issues at the heart of documentary filmmaking as a whole. Do we really find Vivian Maier in this film? We find out a lot about her, some from hearsay, some from theorising, some from incontrovertible fact, but it is the judgements that we viewers make independently of the film that enable us to understand this fascinating character. That someone so intriguing that they would have lost none of their mysterious appeal were they alive today to be studied and queried should be someone so talented also makes Maier the ideal subject of an ideally structured doc; John Maloof's meandering search to uncover this woman is undeniably gripping. But it's Maloof's search, not Maloof himself, that is so gripping. In an egregious display of misplaced self-importance, Maloof artificially inserts himself into Maier's story, offering opinions he has little right to claim as valid since he never knew her, or detailing the extraneous tale of how he came to discover her existence in the first place (Maloof holds the rights to her work, which is a detail worth keeping in mind as you watch the film). Whether or not putting Vivian Maier's photographic work on display, and revealing her life story to the public, including a number of distressing traits and incidents that have potential either to intensify or erode sympathy for her, is true to her spirit is, itself, a wonderfully complicated argument. One wonders whether or not she would have approved of the attention, whether or not we should care now since she is no longer around. Major quibbles with the work of Maloof and Siskel aside, I have none with Maier's own work. Were Finding Vivian Maier a mere procession of images from her canon from start to end, devoid of the historic recollections from questionable sources or the self-aggrandising from this film's directors, it'd be a great artistic work, and a deeply emotional one too. A genius is brought back to life in Finding Vivian Maier, and also horribly undermined.