Iris (2015)

Directed by Albert Maysles

When I wake up in the morning, I jump in the shower, put in my contact lenses, shave, and get dressed. When I pick out my clothes, I often default to the same old same old. For me, having an office job, that means a polo and some slacks. Not very creative. I run downstairs, eat my breakfast, and slip on my shoes. Shoes, now there is where I have a chance to make a statement! I admit to having a few more pairs than I used to (living with someone who worked for a shoe company for 7 years will do that to you), so my choices here are a little more colorful than the “uniform” I put on upstairs. My weekends are often spent in t-shirts of my favorite sports teams or musical acts, paired with jeans or shorts of some kind. What I’m trying to say is I don’t make a statement when I dress. I’m sure my “fashion” goes mostly unnoticed throughout the day.

Iris Apfel, on the other hand, is not someone that goes unnoticed. A New York fashion staple, the 93 year old is perhaps as iconic as her signature oversized, round spectacles, being involved in some form or fashion in the industry for the past 65 years. From the film, we learn that she and her husband Carl, an 100 year old who is probably just as fascinating and interesting as his wife, have been involved in textile production, including interior design and stints in the White House restoring fabrics. Through the years, she has amassed a staggering amount of clothes and accessories (accessories are Iris’ favorite), filling apartments and warehouse spaces in New York and Florida. From this we may perceive Iris to be materialistic at the surface, but her charity and spirit quickly tell us differently.

When the film began, I saw Iris as this eccentric fashion “maven” who wore outlandish things for the attention of onlookers and fashionistas. However, under the warm care of Albert Maysles, the film plods along in the most casual of ways, letting the viewer into the realm of Iris to sit down and spend some time with this crazy old lady. And as that happens, I found myself warming up to Iris and her witty, care-free attitude both towards life and fashion. Fashion couldn’t hold my interest for that long, it’s just not something I call an interest. To me, the line between fashion maverick and fashion faux-pas is non-existent. I can never tell if that crazy thing she’s wearing is great or trash, essentially. It just looks crazy to me. But slowly, throughout the film, I learned to somehow adapt a certain level of appreciation for Iris and her fashion sense.

Part of that appreciation can be attributed to the style of Maysles, and his ability to create a Sunday afternoon setting, conversing casually with Iris and Carl, having Iris show off her most prized trinkets and outfits as we find out what they mean to her, why she loves them so dearly. Iris says at one point that the possessions we have in this life are never owned; we never actually own anything. All that we collect or buy in our lifetime is merely rented. This philosophy seems to be at the heart of her charity, lending her pieces to museums and sharing her time and lifetime of knowledge with eager design students. What we see in this film is an old woman who loves her life and loves living it, but perhaps more importantly she loves sharing it with others, especially Carl.

The relationship between Iris and Carl can be compared to a comedic duo. Those two could sit there talking about just about anything and it would be enjoyable. At the end of their lives, and knowing it, is no reason to slow down, especially not for Iris, who is constantly on the phone and on the move. For a non-fashionista like myself, the charm of this film is not in the material, the garments or accessories on such proud display by Iris Apfel. No, the charm of this film is Iris herself, reveling in her wonderful life and her wonderful taste, and fully embracing who she was is and forever will be, herself. A character like Iris Apfel, and I mean character, is perfectly suited for the profile style documentary on perfect display here as the final film from the late, great Albert Maysles.

***1/2 – Great

Adam Kuhn

Adam Kuhn was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended Saint Charles Preparatory School. He studied History at the University of Cincinnati, where he was a contributor of The News Record, the twice-weekly, independent student news organization. He has been writing film reviews and blogging since 2009.

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