May 2, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tom Long

Review: 'Vivian Maier' is an odd tale of eccentric genius revealed

A photo created from one of more than 100,000 negatives, mostly of street life in Chicago, shot by the late professional nanny Vivian Maier. (Vivian Maier / Maloof Collection)

The story of Vivian Maier is fascinating, the work of Vivian Maier even more so.

Which makes the documentary “Finding Vivian Maier” both revelatory and a bit frustrating. Too many loose ends are left hanging in its depiction of a mysterious artist, while at the same time a craving to see ever more examples of her work goes unfed.

Still, this is one fascinating movie. In 2007, John Maloof, who grew up going to swap meets and flea markets, bid at an auction for a trunk full of photo negatives. In it he found thousands of extraordinary pictures taken by a recently deceased professional nanny, Vivian Maier. Inspired, he tracked down other boxes of Maier’s negatives and bought them.

In the end, he had more than 100,000 negatives, along with many rolls of undeveloped film. Most of the pictures had never even been printed; Maier herself had never even seen them, much less anyone else.

And they are freaking brilliant street photographs, mostly of random people or incidents. They are filled with texture, invention, insight, curiosity and heart.

Maloof, who wrote and directed the movie with Charlie Siskel, began posting them on the Internet, and Maier became a sensation.

A sensation and a question mark. So Maloof began tracking her past, interviewing people she used to work for, kids she helped raise, the rare friend. What emerges is a portrait of a woman obsessed with capturing images, cut off from close relationships and frankly none too stable, beloved by some, considered freakish by others.

There are gaps aplenty in Maloof’s reconstruction of her life, and he takes some odd turns in the telling. But every time one of her photos flashes on the screen, the woman’s genius is undeniable.

'Finding Vivian Maier'

GRADE: B

Not rated

Running time: 83 minutes

tlong@detroitnews.com
twitter.com/toomuchTomLong