IRIS is the new documentary from celebrated filmmaker Albert Maysles who is best known for his work on GIMME SHELTER (1970) and GREY GARDENS (1975). The Iris of the title is Iris Apfel, a 94-year-old New Yorker and style icon. The film gives us access to her apartments in New York and Florida and to her day-to-day existence with her husband Carl.
Iris and Carl live in managed clutter. Their homes are filled with items gathered over sixty years. There are paintings, sculptures, hangings, toys, knick-knacks, bric-a-brac and a dazzling array of dust collecting tchotchkes. Since everything is more or less ordered, the Apfels are collectors rather than hoarders. Most of the space is given over to clothes and accessories. Iris’s homes are walk in-robes. She claims to have the largest private collection of costume jewellery in the United States. This might seem like a boast until you discover that Iris is in the process of donating her clothes and jewellery to the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts.
Iris always had style. Her history in the fashion business is traced through the decades. We get some insight into her work in interior design. Old World Weavers, the textile firm she ran with Carl did restorative work for the White House over the course of nine administrations.
We go with Iris on a small buying trip. She delights in combining and accessorising without any of the usual rules and conventions as a guide. She is a slight figure with a big personality wearing combinations you would never think of. She obviously has no use for the saying (attributable to Chanel or perhaps your mother), “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory.” Her face is dominated by large framed glasses and is reminiscent of the look the late Irving “Swifty” Lazar used to rock when he was a Hollywood mover and shaker.
Iris’s things bring her joy, she remembers where she bought those things and for how much, but it wouldn’t be much of a tale if she were just a stylish materialist who once worked for Jackie Kennedy. Iris Apfel takes joy in her life and she inspires those around her to do the same. She is engaged and she is still interested in what’s next. At a time of life when she might well feel she has seen it all, having seen a damn sight more than many of us, she maintains a zest for living that is unusual.
The feel of this documentary is not unlike Richard Press’s 2010 film BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK (Cunningham makes a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance) and is similarly a fly-on-the-wall tale that unfolds at a leisurely pace.
IRIS is Albert Maysles’ penultimate film. The filmmaker died earlier this year. Even though we see him very occasionally in the frame, the movie is all about Iris. She is a tough, funny, one-of-a-kind character who made her mark on the culture. The film runs for 80 minutes and is now showing in limited release around our wide, brown land. 6/10