Movie review: IRIS (2014) DIR. ALBERT MAYSLES

Image above: Iris Apfel in IRIS, a Magnolia Pictures release, 2014. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.


Iris Apfel was an unforgettable sight wherever she appeared - for years a fixture in certain New York circles and always photographed. Tall, reed-thin and lanky, with angular features and her signature huge round glasses, always dressed in full-on regalia - she would combine the most extraordinary outfits and accessories to create an exuberant cacophany of styles, patterns, textures and colors. She re-defined panache and maximalisim with her own unique style. Her personal collection was the subject of a show called Rara Avis at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum in 2006. (The show was so popular that it travelled to three other museums). Now in her nineties she is a media darling - appearing on talk shows and magazine covers, including Vanity Fair.

How she became this totally original fashion iconoclast is the subject of Albert Maysles last film before his death in 2014. It seems totally fitting that these two legendary artists should collaborate. Iris’s innate theatricality and pithy aphorisms provide a perfect foil for Albert Maysles “fly-on-the-wall” style of documentary filmmaking. It allows us to follow her through her homes as she invites us to share her past and her surroundings which are as abundant and richly varied as her sartorial style. She is as gracious as a docent as she highlights her favorite items with amusing anecdotes.


Carl and Iris Apfel in IRIS, a Magnolia Pictures release, 2014. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.



Albert Maysles, director of IRIS, a Magnolia Pictures release, 2014. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.


Some of the best footage is that shot by her husband Carl recording their early travels scouring exotic locations and markets as they sourced inspiration and craftspeople to create the textiles for their hugely successful company Old World Weavers. It was these early travels which unleashed and enabled Iris’s voracious passion for collecting jewelry, ornamentation, and objects of astonishing variety. She bought everything - primitive and precious, refined and kitsch, exotic and vintage. The only evident affinity was Iris’s eye. Her extraordinary taste and her talent for inclusiveness is almost anthropological. But these acquisitions were not bought to be displayed in vitrines. Iris wore them as they were intended - like tribal people whose adornments signified status - the more the better. Thus, she paved her own way in the world of style and fashion.

It is an up close and personal story of a unique personality, creative and bold, warm and witty - with an outlook which is optimistic and practical as she faces the endgame of a life well-lived. She is acutely aware of her own mortality and that of her husband of 66 years, Carl, who has just turned 100. One gets a real sense of the humanity of this fascinating woman and she is well worth knowing.

by Belle McIntyre

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