Synopsis: A documentary on the late Vivian Maier, a nanny whose previously unknown cache of 100,000 photographs earned her a posthumous reputation as one the most accomplished street photographers.
Stars: Vivian Maier
Director: John Maloof, Charlie Siskel
Running Length: 83 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: What I love about a documentary that isn’t focused on war or politics is that they don’t have to waste precious celluloid (does anyone still use celluloid?) in their attempts to humanize their characters. There’s less excuse making, less partisan grandstanding, and just a general lack of that brazen BS that accompanies any investigation into a hot button issue. No, what is so great about movies like Finding Vivian Maier is that they can interview people who knew our titular character and have them say how aloof she came across, how independent her spirit was, how downright mean she could be, and it doesn’t detract from the fact that this woman had a remarkable talent that she kept all to herself.
Filmmakers John Maloof and Charlie Siskel (movie critic Gene Siskel’s son) have a good looking Oscar nominated documentary on their hands with a central subject so secretive and interesting that I’m actually glad her life remained a mystery until well after her death because to have any concrete answers from the source subject would have spoiled some of the magic.
When Maloof happens upon a box of Maier’s photographs and shares them with an art collector friend, there’s little interest until 2009 when Maier’s work took off like a rocket via the internet. Though she took thousands of pictures, Maier had hardly any developed either because of cost or lack of need. From what we learn, Maier was very much an in the moment photographer and the stunning snaps we see displayed show as much of Maier’s curious complexities as it does the seemingly mundane subjects she captured on film.
Maloof and Siskel’s film traces what little we know about Maier from her upbringing in New York as the daughter of immigrant parents to her days of working as a nanny for several families, many of whom are interviewed here. Maier was a tough taskmaster, relentlessly private, and kept her world very small…making the images she took over 40 plus years all the more interesting because they’ve locked engaging facets of humanity in a single frame forever.
Though she had two former charges that took care of her and paid her rent as she grew older, Maier’s personal life was also a mystery. When she died in October 2009 she had little worldly possessions…save for boxes and boxes of undeveloped film that would become her legacy. In discovering the treasures she kept hidden, Maloof and Siskel found more than an unknown’s life work…they found a valuable piece of history.