Surprise behind a shutter
Finding Vivian Maier (PG) National release Rise (M) Limited release My Mistress (MA15+) Limited release
THE mystery of what it is to be human lies at the quirky heart of an American documentary about a street photographer who was unknown in her lifetime (she died in 2009, aged 83) but is now acclaimed and has had her work shown in galleries around the world, including at the just-concluded Melbourne Festival.
Vivian Maier was an individual enigma, too. It was not clear where she came from (most people thought she was French) and little was known about her early years. For most of her life she worked as a nanny in Chicago and surrounds. She was a loner, a hoarder, never married, secretive, obsessive. And she took photographs, tens of thousands of them.
Yet the fact she took photos — great ones at that — may never have come to light if not for the tenacity of young American historian John Maloof, who in the course of his research purchased at auction a box of negatives, hoping to snare images of old Chicago.
Maloof didn’t find what he was looking for but found himself at the start of something. He thought Maier’s unstaged street photographs, particularly of children, were beautiful, and started posting them online. His blog took off, and thus began a mission “to put Vivian in the history books’’. This film, directed by Maloof and Charlie Siskel, is about that quest.
In Maloof, Maier has a champion who matches her for, well, let’s say attention to detail. Not content with tracking down and showcasing her work, he also wants to expose her life. He finds children she nannied, adults now, and the stories they have to tell are surprising. It seems Vivian was no Mary Poppins. He secures home movies and audiotapes, so we can see and hear this woman who created a remarkable body of work yet never showed it to anyone.
By the end, we have a fairly clear picture of Maier and it is an unsettling one. This is a film that starts out being about an unknown artist and ends up being about something more complex and challenging: a person. MACK Lindon’s autobiographical prison drama is one of the strangest films I’ve seen in a while, not always in a good way but not always in a bad way either. In 2008,