Art School(ed): Finding Vivian Maier this week at the Cable Car Cinema

Perhaps you are well acquainted with Blog’s column, This Week at the Avon. Meet the Avon’s sulky, redheaded step-sister hip, closer-to-sea-level competitor, the Cable Car Cinema and Cafe. Cable Car, located on seabreezy South Main Street, has recently been deemed “Best Art House Cinema in New England” by Yankee Magazine. This week, Cable Car has extended their screening of the new, much-anticipated documentary Finding Vivian Maier through Thursday. This film seeks to unveil the mysterious nanny who also happened to be one of the most prolific street photographers of the 20th century. She created work on par with Diane Arbus, Lisette Model, and Robert Frank, but her fruits of her Rolleiflex were unknown to the world until 2007.

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A 26-year-old real estate agent and director of the film, John Maloof, discovered Maier’s work at a storage auction in Chicago while looking for images of the Windy City to include in a book he was co-authoring at the time. Maier had stashed her work away in boxes, and 100,000 negatives and undeveloped rolls of film had remained unseen until Maloof stumbled upon them. The art world and the general public feel immense gratitude towards Maloof because he made Maier’s work known, but, as the film progresses, the problematic nature of Maloof’s nearly tyrannical possession of the work bubbles to the surface. Maloof had no personal connection to Maier before he bid on a trunk of her negatives for $300, but now he is producing (and profiting from) posthumous prints of her work, and receiving international attention because of Maier’s eccentric story. At times, Finding Vivian Maier comes across as a thinly veiled promotional piece for John Maloof, and it makes the viewer wonder what this film could have been if it had been directed by a third party documentarian.

Adding to the complexity of the Maloof/Maier relationship, Maloof now pursues a personal photography practice which emulates Maier’s work in a contemporary context. Maloof’s homages to Maier seem to parallel James Franco’s “body of work” on display now at Pace Gallery, New Film Stills (an appropriation or spoof of Cindy Sherman’s landmark series Untitled Film Stills). What Roberta Smith recently said about James Franco’s photos can also apply to Maloof’s photographic efforts: “It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for him, while also wishing that someone or something would make him stop.” It’s all so bizarre.

Whether or not this film makes you a bit skeptical of its director and producer, it’s still worth the trip to watch (a fraction) of Maier’s incredible oeuvre unfold before your eyes.

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Undated, Vancouver, Canada

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At the Cable Car, you can grapple with all of these arty moral dilemmas while drinking a dirty chai or a Brooklyn brew (or while free-refilling your popcorn vessel multiple times). That’s the beauty of living minutes away from the best art house cinema in New England.

August 1975

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1 Comment

  1. Tracey Martin

    There’s another great documentary about Vivian Maier. Very different. http://www.vivianmaiermysterymovie.com

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