Unfortunately, it can’t be said for the late Albert Maysles, who died on March 5th at age 88, that his penultimate film, Iris, is anywhere close to his best, but that is damning with great praise: this is the man who (with his late brother David) made Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens and Salesman (among over forty other films) and was known as “The Dean of Documentary”. Iris is delightful enough, but so slight a subject that its scant eighty-three minute running time feels padded.
Iris Apfel, still alive at 94 (and filmed by Maysles here at 93) has had an eccentric career at the intersection of interior design, textiles and fashion, but what she’s really famous for is knowing how to put an outfit together – on herself. The women likes to shop and likes to get dressed, and that’s what we mainly follow her doing, scouring vintage stores from New York to Palm Beach and getting to be present for her singular wit along the way. Various parties, guest lecturing gigs and retrospective interviews about museum and store-window shows she’s curated let us know she’s much more than just an old New York lady haggling for a good price in second hand stores – though she is that lady, quintessentially and proudly.
The movie becomes most poignant and meaningful when Maysles suddenly turns the camera on himself, revealing the 87 year old man who is stalking the 93 year old subject. Suddenly the film doubles down on its premise that age should not be an impediment, even as age cannot help but be the film’s true theme.