'Finding Vivian Maier': The nanny with the camera
**** (out of four stars)
Directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel. With Vivian Maier, John Maloof, Mary Ellen Mark. 1 hour, 23 mins. No MPAA rating (adult themes). Playing at: Ritz Five.
Finding Vivian Maier is a find in more ways than one. Chicago real estate agent and obsessive art fiend John Maloof's discovery of a cache of photographs, negatives, and a hoarder's trove of personal effects led him - and now leads us - on a fascinating puzzle-piece mystery. The result: a revelatory portrait of the enigmatic, eccentric Vivian Maier, who worked as a nanny for families in the Chicago area from the '50s through the '90s - and who dragged her charges through the city, taking pictures with her Rolleiflex.
These street photographs are nothing less than brilliant. Renowned New York photographer Mary Ellen Mark, interviewed as she looks over examples of Maier's work, compares the heretofore unknown shooter to Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, Lisette Model. "She had it all," Mark exclaims.
The documentary about Maier - and Maloof's quest to learn her story, and champion her work - is skillfully assembled, with reminscences from those who knew the woman best: the boys and girls, now grown, whom she hauled around town not always in the kindest manner, and the parents who hired her.
Codirected by Maloof (a character himself) and Charlie Siskel, Finding Vivian Maier brings a new talent to light. Sadly, her fame and acclaim come posthumously. But happily, recognition for this private and peculiar woman is out there now for all to behold, and be thrilled by. - Steven Rea