Finding Vivian Maier and some good popcorn to boot

Award season is the time of year when I try to get super serious and catch up on all the movies that I wanted to see but somehow missed for one lame reason or another. Thankfully it occurs in the winter when any excuse NOT to leave my house comes in super handy. About the only category that I usually see all the movies from is the documentary one, with maybe a couple of the foreign language flicks thrown in for good measure. I generally don’t see a lot of the movies that the average Oscar voter likes as they have terrible taste and I am still pissed off about Crash winning best picture in 2005 because it was like a bad ABC Afterschool Special from my childhood, only worse. Seriously, it has been ten years and I still have not forgiven them. While I love being able to watch movies at home at will, there is something missing, besides the annoying person who keeps checking their Facebook status every fifteen minutes and distracting everyone with their screen light (usually not a youngster by the way, more like an oldster who should know better).

What is missing, other than not showing Strax before every movie viewing, is popcorn, the quintessential movie treat. Luckily I have found a movie theater replacement version that is not only quick and easy, but also a much healthier option, it’s called Quinn Popcorn. I quit eating microwave popcorn in the 90s, that stuff stinks (hospitals wisely banned its use years ago) and it probably has more chemicals in it than the Gulf of Mexico thanks to BP and their incredible safety record by which of course I mean the opposite of that. You can make popcorn the old-fashioned way, on the stove, but if you are watching movies the modern way why make popcorn the retro way?

Makes every night movie night

Makes every night movie night

Quinn Popcorn comes in compostable wax paper bags and in my microwave takes about 90 seconds tops to pop. Toss in the flavoring, shake the bag and voila, movie theater taste with way less calories and absolutely no petroleum by-products. It’s a victory for home theater movie watching. I have tried almost all their flavor options and am pretty loyal to the butter and sea salt one. It used to be more of a co-op/Whole Foods kind of product but I see it now in local grocery stores like Lund’s and Byerly’s. You can also order it here.

Finding Vivian Maier is one of those movies that I really wanted to see for a lot of reasons, one being that I am a proud documentary nerd and have been since I first saw Michael Apted’s wonderful Up Series in high school and totally fell in love with it. I have continued to see each installment as they have been released since then and if you have not yet seen these movies than you should do so right now before the next one comes out in 2019. I think that gives you plenty of time.

I also wanted to see it because I was fascinated by the story of a nanny who was such a prolific street photographer and yet no one knew about it. Nowadays street photographers are practically a dime a dozen and run the gamut from Humans of New York to Advanced Style, and of course the most famous reindeer of all, Bill Cunningham New York (another movie by the way you should add to your documentary viewing schedule somewhere between 7 Up and 56 Up).

You won’t learn a whole lot about Vivian Maier the woman in this movie but you will learn a lot about Vivian Maier the photographer. She was a nanny, mostly in the Chicago area and even spent a few months working for Phil Donahue (yeah that guy who used to have a talk show that everyone’s mom watched before Oprah, not sure who the moms watch now, Ellen?). If not for the filmmaker John Maloof buying a bunch of her negatives at an auction her work might not have ever seen the light of day let alone become a worldwide story. Two years after Maloof purchased the negatives and after posting some of the scanned images on Flickr he tries to track her down only to find out she had died two weeks earlier. Following up on leads from the obituary notice he tries to find out as much as he can about her.

A lot of the interviews are with former employers and their now grown-up children, although interestingly enough not the three boys she took care of the longest who in return took care of her by paying her rent and burying her. She was born in New York, but spoke with a French accent courtesy of her French-born mother who took Vivian to live for years at a time in her tiny home village in the Alps. Some of the people interviewed in the film seem shocked that a woman of such obvious artistic talents would waste her life being a nanny which is more than a little bit condescending, as if one necessarily excludes the other. Vivian believed very strongly in the idea of free-range children* and being a nanny offered her and the kids she took care of the opportunity to get out of the suburbs and into the city and explore what the world had to offer. Even if sometimes the parents were less than thrilled about where she took their children.

Just a spoonful of free-range children

Just a spoonful of free-range children

Vivian was a feminist, a Socialist and as the dude from the New York public records office tells us a “spinster”, like that’s a bad thing (FYI beardy, I  wear my spinster badge proudly). Vivian’s photography definitely shows an empathy towards the poor and less fortunate like the work of Dorothea Lange. There are shades of Diane Arbus in some of her portraits and a bit of Weegee in her street scenes (she had a fascination with crime) but her style was very much her own which is incredible when you learn that out of the 120,000 plus negatives found she printed very few of her images.

This movie has its flaws, some of the interviews lead nowhere, like the linguistics guy who doubted her accent, or the Southampton lady (aka The Official Preppy Handbook real life doll probably named Muffy) but overall it just made me want to find out a whole lot more about Vivian Maier, which is what all good documentaries should do. This one is definitely on the short list to win this year’s best documentary entry and is available on iTunes, Amazon Instant and is currently airing on Showtime.

Vivian Maier, Chicago

Vivian Maier, Chicago

*free-range, it’s not just for chickens anymore. Really, it isn’t.






  1. Oh, Amy: Now, I watched the trailer, and I agree that Vivian Maier seems to have taken amazing photographs, but to me, the doc should’ve been titled “Searching for Vivian Maier.” It doesn’t appear there was much actual “Finding” of who Vivian the person was. While you indicate that good documentaries make you want to find out more about the subject, I would’ve loved finding out who the REAL Vivian Maier in the actual doc instead of having to go elsewhere to find out more. Still, the misleading documentary title notwithstanding, your piece certainly piqued my interest.

    1. Oh Frankster, I agree about the title, when I was looking for the fim on Apple TV I thought it was called searching for rather than finding Vivian Maier.

    2. I hit send too fast when I was correcting my typo which you will immediately find because duh, that is what you do. I would have still tried to find out more about her even if the movie was chockfull of facts because that is the way I roll if I’m interested in something!

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