Iris review – vibrant sartorial documentary
4 / 5 stars
Iris Apfel, the beloved 93-year-old New York fashion icon, is a fitting subject for Albert Maysles’s penultimate film
Sunday 2 August 2015 07.59 BST / http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/aug/02/iris-review-vibrant-sartorial-documentary
Edna Mode, the hi-tech fashionista of The Incredibles, may have had Anna Wintour’s hair, but more distinctively, she had the porthole-sized spectacles of Iris Apfel, the 93-year-old subject of this documentary. A beloved New York fashion icon and self-styled “geriatric starlet”, Mrs Apfel is famous for dressing with delirious, eye-searing panache. “I like to improvise,” she says, “try this, try that, as though I’m playing jazz” – her jazz presumably being of the bacchanalian free-improv variety, rather than black polo-neck cool school.
Albert Maysles’s film follows Apfel on her shopping expeditions; explores the clutter-filled Aladdin’s cave of a home she shares with her husband and interior-design partner Carl, now 101; and shows her imparting brittle and generous wisdom to younger and more earnest fashionistas.
Given that she has made a lifelong three-ring circus out of her dress sense, it would be easy to dismiss Apfel as an eccentric show-off rather than exalt her as a permanent performance artist. But she emerges here as a down-to-earth, self-mocking, savvy philosopher, a one-off combination of Madame de Pompadour and a borscht-belt standup: it’s not just Iris’s glasses that recall George Burns, but her wit too.
Albert Maysles – who died in March aged 88, and whose penultimate film this is – is best known for the verite-style documentaries he made with his late brother David, notably Grey Gardens (1975), a deeper, darker portrait of two somewhat more troubled grandes dames. Iris is a slight, conventional affair by Maysles’s standards, and a touch repetitive – endless bolts of fabric and panoplies of costume jewellery laid out for our appreciation. And you can’t help thinking that a socialite who can afford to indulge her style might by nature be less interesting than those people who manage to fuel their sartorial fancies on a shoestring. But Iris Apfel’s whole being – like this entertaining study – is a bracing advert for the pleasures of living large, and loud, into old age.