Tonight I saw the Vivian Maier documentary. The film is fascinating, extremely well made, and decidedly worth seeing, if ultimately frustrating because of the questions it leaves unanswered.
The last is in part unavoidable given the enigma of the film’s subject. Indeed, one marvels at the prodigious excavations of Maier’s tantalizingly mysterious life which her discoverer John Maloof has undertaken. Yet the frustration also derives from the Jewish subtexts–there are several–which the film leaves unstated or unexplored. One of these, the Jewish world of Chicago’s Highland Park in which Maier worked and which she chronicled, is given context here. Maier’s own provenance, and our perceptions of it, is another. It does not turn out that she was Jewish, yet it is striking how easy it is to assume that she–photographer, outsider, urban walker–was, and this invites consideration of the ongoing discussions about the relationship between Jews, photography, and urban space. Finally, there are the war years which Maier spent in France and which the film never really fills in.
I suppose some of these questions are dealt with, to the extent they can be, in the recent spate of books about her. Yet it may be that in addition to the astonishing collection of photographs and films she has left us, she bequeathed the blank space of her life’s fundamental anonymity.