Here’s my pal Malcolm Jones on Orson Welles’s forgotten masterpiece.
To be sure, Maier was eccentric: a friendless, secretive spinster who spent her life caring for other people’s children. She was a hoarder and a person of uncertain origin: was she French or merely someone pretending to be French? On a tape found in one of those storage lockers, she can be heard supervising a game among her young charges where identities are being assigned. When one of the children asks who Maier will be, she responds, “I am the mystery woman.”
The real mystery, however, is what made that woman take those pictures, and on this subject the film is not much help, although no one seems too disturbed by that. Since it appeared in theaters this month, the documentary has received rave reviews, and understandably: Finding Vivian Maier tells a strange and intriguing story, and filmmakers John Maloof and Charlie Siskel deserve the praise they’ve received.
But as I watched the film, small alarms kept going off in my head, because questions are raised—or at least implied—but never satisfactorily answered.
Why does Maloof present himself as the sole discoverer of Maier’s work? If you read the stories that appeared several years ago when the pictures first surfaced, you know that at least three people, including Maloof, found the photos when the contents of Maier’s Chicago storage lockers were auctioned off. This is a major part of the story because it revolves around who owns what, who decides which of Maier’s images the public will see and in what form, who stands to profit, and ultimately who gets to tell and define her story.
Why does Finding Vivian Maier spend so much time interviewing the people, now grown, that she once tended as a nanny? Almost none of these people have much illuminating to say about her, other than that she was weird, secretive, and not always very nice. Moreover, most of the witnesses knew her not in her prime, but when she was older.
Here is a well-informed and balanced take on the lingering scandal between Woody Allen, his ex girlfriend Mia Farrow, their children, his wife, and allegations of sexual abuse.
Yesterday, I brought my Stacks show on the road to The Daily Beast. I’ll have a reprint there each weekend. First up, John Schulian’s great Mike Royko profile.
They were drinking their dinner in a joint outside Chicago. It was just Mike Royko and his pal, Big Shack, and whatever their bleary musings happened to be that night three years ago. They probably never even gave a thought to the fact that they were in Niles, Illinois, which qualifies as a suburb and therefore should have been treated by Royko as if it were jock itch. But Niles is where a lot of the Milwaukee Avenue Poles he grew up with fled when they started finding themselves living next door to neighbors named Willie and Jose. So this was shot-and-a-beer territory after all. The only thing it lacked was a DO NOT DISTURB sign.
“Hey, you’re Mike Royko!”
It happens to him all the time even though newspaper guys are supposed to be bylines, not recognizable faces with bald heads, crooked smiles and ski-jump noses. How Royko, who is a baggy-pants character no matter what he wears, cracked the celebrity lineup is no mystery, though. Nor is it a tribute to the tiny picture of him that has decorated his column in each of the three Chicago papers he has worked for. The secret is words. The words that in 1971 paid off with a Pulitzer Prize for his newspaper commentary and a best-selling book called Boss, in which he dissected Mayor Richard J. Daley. The words that now appear, via syndication, in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Daily News, and 223 other papers. The words that always have originated in his hometown, Chicago, five times a week, year after year after year.
“I’ve read you all my life.”
Royko’s admirer was male, white, crowding 40, with a pretty wife who quickly made it known that she was a more voracious reader than her husband. Soon the three of them were so wrapped up in one another that they failed to notice Big Shack, all 220 pounds of him, lumber off to the can. But Big Shack is important to this story, first, because he is the source of it, and second, because he returned just in time to save Royko.
“The guy was choking Mike,” Big Shack says. “I guess his wife had gotten a little too friendly, and Mike, well, you know Mike. So there I was, peeling the guy’s fingers off Mike’s throat one at a time.”
Big Shack can laugh about it now.
“What can I tell you? In ten minutes Mike went from hero to bad guy.”
It wasn’t his maiden voyage.
This was the scene just a few miles from where I live yesterday. Over at the Daily Beast, Michael Daley writes about Amazing Grace in the Bronx:
The third car had people trapped inside.
But the fourth was the most challenging to the firefighters because it was sitting at a tilt and swayed as they worked to extricate the injured.
“The car was teetering back and forth,” later said FDNY Capt. James Ellson of Rescue 3. “So the removal of those people was getting a little tricky.”
In all the cars, there were more injured people than the firefighters and cops could immediately assist in those early minutes. The rescuers, who are geared to helping whoever needs it, had to make a difficult request to the passengers who were less badly injured than others.
“It’s very hard to ask a civilian who was just involved in an accident to help us,” Ellson would recall. “They had just been involved in a very bad train accident, and now I’m saying, ‘I need your help, I need you to help people who are in worse shape.’ I asked everybody, ‘Listen, look at the people next to you, and if they need help, help them.’ And they did it.”