Iris a colourful portrait of a “geriatric starlet”


With her outsized, orb-like glasses and her enormous rings, bracelets and neckwear, Iris Apfel possesses a wonderfully distinct personal style that at times evokes hula hoops and Harold Lloyd, celestial bodies and fashion-forward monasteries, and, to be sure, the lens of a camera. Albert Maysles directed his lens at Apfel, now in her 90s and an inimitable fashion icon—or “geriatric starlet,” as she likes to put it—for this, one of his final films. Maysles died this past March, leaving behind one of cinema’s great legacies. Among his most revered works are two documentaries he made with his brother David, who died in 1987: Gimme Shelter (1970), a concert film and postmortem on the Rolling Stones’ ill-fated Altamont Speedway concert, and Grey Gardens (1975), an intimate portrait of Big Edie and Little Edie Beale, an eccentric mother and daughter duo of American aristocratic lineage sharing a ramshackle Hamptons manor with all manner of local wildlife. This week Metro Cinema will screen both Gimme Shelter and Grey Gardens along with Iris as a salute to the legendary documentarian.

More profile than narrative, Iris is not a film of great momentum, but it is easily sustained by the colourfulness and brio of its subject. Apfel was told in youth that she would never be pretty, but that she had something much better than prettiness—she had style. Which sounds like an understatement. Along with her husband and business partner of some 60-plus years, Apfel had tremendous success in interior decoration and textiles. (The couple’s resumé includes several gigs with the White House.) This career allowed Apfel to collect clothes, accessories and assorted objects from all over the world. This collection now fills her Park Avenue apartment, Palm Beach home and other locales, but more impressive than the collection itself is what Apfel does with it. Various cultures, religions and historical eras intermingle in her outfits, as do items of haute couture and discount store bargains—she prefers shopping in Harlem to Manhattan. Flamboyant but also practical, Apfel loves to improvise, but her combinations never look merely quirky; rather, they are smart, allusive, strange in the best sense of the word. The film follows her as she maintains an extremely busy calendar, buying stuff, getting photographed, doing speaking engagements and giving advice, as well as flirting adorably with Kanye West. It’s moving to know that among Maysles final projects was this tribute to growing old with, not grace exactly, but, rather, pizzazz!

Fri, May 29 – Thu, Jun 4
Directed by Albert Maysles
Metro Cinema at the Garneau

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