Sur­prise be­hind a shut­ter

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews - Stephen Romei

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,

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