I took an hour or so to come up for air in planning the various pieces of the film project to watch Iris. It’s a documentary about the world’s oldest starlet, Iris Apfel was 93 when Albert Maysles filmed her and her husband, Carl. She has reigned as a goddess in the pantheon of royalty in the worlds of fashion, interior design, art, and jewelry, etc., etc. for sixty years. Her taste veers from bold and gorgeous — antique Chinese robes — to pure kitsch. Three-foot Snoopy, anyone?
Even those who don’t know of her will recognize her signature, those huge round eyeglasses.
Maysles captures all of Iris – the worship of the young fashionistas and the museum curators – even the adoration of her “beloved” housekeeper. She maintains her fascination with up-to-the minute culture.
Iris is most definite in her opinions – color is required. She thinks the black NYC uniform is boring. She haggles with brio. She opposes plastic surgery because of the risk of horrible results. She even draws Maysles into the action by telling him that women adore him.
At just under ninety minutes Iris barrels along, keeping viewers entertained and enlightened with video, still photos, interviews with Iris and Carl. It includes film of his hundredth birthday party.
I disagree with one IMDb critic that she comes across as an empty human shell. The opening montage of her offering fashion advice to young women of color gives us an Iris who is compassionate and engaged. When she haggles, she’s lively and sharpminded.
The dimension most explored is her desire to collect. And that raises a major concern. I lived with a lesser version of Iris. She’s never received treatment for hoarding syndrome. There was one room in her Florida residence so crammed with “stuff,” much of it obviously expensive, that it’s impassable. And the closets jammed with clothes. She either has an eidetic memory, some major cataloguing system, or several devoted assistants to keep track of all that. She did remember the provenance of every item, so I’m betting on the memory. And then there’s the warehouse out on Long Island, filled with statuary, furniture, and I don’t know what all else. Scary and intimidating.
Iris Apfel remains of life and joie de vivre, a role model in that respect at least.