Blowhard, Esq. writes:
Out on DVD this week is this documentary (which I was lucky enough to catch with Paleo Retiree at the IFC Center) about the photographer and Internet phenom that I thought was enjoyable if unsatisfying. For those who don’t know, Maier worked for decades as a nanny in the Chicago area. A prickly recluse in life, after she died a massive trove of tens of thousands of photographs, many of them candid street shots, was discovered. Maier took these photos throughout her lifetime but made virtually no attempts to share them with anyone else. Who was Maier and where did she come from? Where did her artistic drive come from? Why did she never try to publish them? These are the main questions posed by writer-directors John Maloof, one of three persons who discovered the Maier lode, and Charlie Siskel.
Maloof, who appears on-camera as guide and narrator, does a good job of following leads and telling Maier’s story — I was consistently engaged throughout — but he makes an odd assumption and leaves some threads dangling. First, as PR pointed out when we chatted after the movie, Maloof assumes from the outset that Maier’s work is of high aesthetic and historic quality. Gosh golly, he just can’t imagine why MoMA or other museums aren’t clamoring for her work. Dude, her pictures were discovered five years ago. Reputations aren’t built overnight and MoMA already has enough on its plate. I guess Maloof’s boosterism is unsurprising, though, given his financial interest as owner of much of Maier’s work. Second, the filmmakers skirt around the fact that, um, it’s fairly clear she was a man-hating lesbian. Maybe the NPR crowd (Maloof could be a This American Life correspondent) wants their artzgayz cute and cuddly like Bill Cunningham and doesn’t really know what to make of those who don’t fit that mold. Finally, the filmmakers detail Maier’s paranoia and hoarding — she kept tons of newspapers and other ephemera — but never connect that her obsessive photography was likely a manifestation of her compulsion to collect and save. At least when it comes to Maier, the movie makes a case for a link between art and madness without quite realizing it.
- You can watch the movie’s trailer here. The NYT’s review of the movie.
- Maier’s official site, which contains a generous sampling of her work and her Wikipedia entry. Maloof’s original Blogspot site. Profiles of Maier from Mother Jones and Smithsonian.
- Back here, Paleo Retiree took a look at four movies about photography, including the recent Bill Cunningham doc and a BBC film on Maier.
- I’ve been browsing through a couple books of Weegee photographs the past few days. Creepshot or Not?