My stepfather quipped, when I mentioned we had seen Albert Maysles’ (Grey Gardens, Gimme Shelter) new film, Iris, “I didn’t know you guys were fans of big costume jewelry.”
Iris Apfel is a 93-year-old woman who is known as a fashion icon, and in particular for wearing shall-we-say striking clothing accessorized with copious quantities of large costume jewelry. She, with her now 100-year-old husband, Carl, started an interior design business after The War which emphasized uniqueness. So, where most designers would decorate from the stock at hand, Iris would travel the world finding unique fabrics, tchochkes, and furniture so that your living room wouldn’t look like everyone else’s.
Needless to say, this appeals to a client base that is very wealthy. Iris even did the White House from—I think it was—the Trumans to, I dunno, maybe even the current guy. (There’s a cute scene in the trailer where Carl starts to talk about having trouble with Jackie, and Iris hushes him. She warns that the White House doesn’t like it when you talk about them.)
Needless to say, we aren’t really big fashion folk. (The Flower wasn’t there.) But in my experience, people don’t really make documentaries about ordinary people—if there even is such a thing. And certainly, if Viviane Maier taught us anything, it’s that extraordinary people lurk under ordinary surfaces.
Using the three point system:
1. Subject matter is…well, interesting. Iris is an interesting woman who’s had a long, successful life. She was not an attractive woman, but she had style, and she cultivated it into an amazing career. It’s touching and amazing how she and her husband are after 70 years!
2. The presentation is very straightforward. Veteran director Albert Maysles, who died in March at the age of 88, was certainly capable of of a variety of approaches—he directed the Stones’ classic “Gimme Shelter"—but the choice he made here was to follow Iris around today on a schedule which makes almost everyone else in the world look like a slacker. There’s enough backstory to get a sense of Iris’ past, but it’s oddly—for a movie about a nonagenarian—not about her past at all. It’s about her present! On the one hand, you might wish for more background material, but on the other, as a living human, she’s probably more interesting than just history can capture.
3. Slant? Well, probably. One of the gags (seen in the trailer) is someone suggesting she did the movie because she thought the director was cute. She runs with that, pronouncing him a lady-killer. And that’s kind of a recurring theme: She’s all about fashion, but she’s never mean. And she doesn’t ever come off as pretentious (which I totally would, if I wore feather boas and big bracelets).
So, maybe there’s a slant there, but as I always say, when we’re dealing with biographies, a little hagiography can be okay.
Speaking of things Iris can pull of but I couldn’t, the woman has been shopping for almost 90 years now (she relates her first shopping adventure) and has a impressive "collection” of baubles, bangles and what-not. If I had that much stuff, I’d probably end up on “Hoarders”. But that’s fair. It’s all junk when you get down to it—all of the things of life, really—and what matters is what you make of it.