Friday, 16 October 2015


The late, great Albert Maysles once said “remember, as a documentarian you are an observer. An author but not a director. A discoverer, not a controller.” Having made some of the finest documentaries of all time with his brother David, Albert spent the last 28 years after his brother’s passing by continuing his work alone. A pioneer in the direct cinema (cinéma vérité) movement and the fly-on-the-wall style, Albert’s penultimate film is more than it looks on the outside. It looks like it’s just another film about fashion and art. And sure, it is those things. But it’s also an inspiring film about life, love and everlasting youth.

Out now on DVD comes Iris, an uplifting documentary about a truly wonderful individual. The film follows the eponymous Iris Apfel, a flamboyantly dressed and charismatic 93-year old fashion icon, as she tells us about her life and, perhaps unknowingly, inspires us and shows us what life is. There is no plot to the film, no story as such. We just have Iris Apfel’s company for 75 minutes, which is in no way a bad thing. From the outset we learn that, unlike most fashion designers and icons, she’s happy to explore the most tacky gift shops in to purchase $4 bracelets than spend thousands in Tiffany’s. Therein lies her charm, this is a lady who ‘loves to improvise’ and embraces individuality, something that is ‘so lost these days’. Where most fashion icons wouldn’t be seen dead in anything under £10,000, here’s a lady who’s happiest in an outfit she’s picked up at a Sunday market. But it’s not just her fashion sense that makes her who she is, it’s her remarkable love of life and sense of humour. A self-labelled ‘geriatric starlet’ now in her 93rd year, she says in the film that she’s still very much alive and ‘walking around to save funeral expenses’ with a smile on her face. Her joy of life rubs off on others – there’s a humorous moment in the film in which she flirts with Kanye West – and one of her friends emotionally tells us that Iris ‘loves every f***ing minute’ of her life. And she does. 

In terms of the filmmaking, Albert Maysles is on typically fine form here. Staying out of sight for the majority of the film and creating a film that does not require any narration, his presence isn’t necessarily felt. But the film buffs among who know a Maysles documentary when you see one will definitely pick up on the fly-on-the-wall format and general Maysles traits. Some reviews have said that there is no point to Iris, and that the film ambles for 75 minutes with little direction or aim. On the one hand, they’re right. As discussed, there is no narrative here. It’s not a chronological, biographical documentary like you might expect. I guess you could argue it’s more like a day in the life film, a peek into the world of a true eccentric.

But it’s much more than that. Iris is one of the most uplifting and inspiring films I have seen in a long time. Iris Apfel, a lady I had never even heard of before this film, has gained a huge deal of respect from me for refusing to conform to the norms and refusing to grow old. With her, age is just a number – and as she continues to inspire young people, she will always be youthful. Towards the end of the film, she makes two comments that sum her up. Firstly, she’s asked if she ever judges other people’s outfits and she seems disgusted by the idea – “I don’t sit in judgement, if they’re happy that way. It’s better to be happy than well-dressed”. She then goes on to say that she’s never been conventionally ‘pretty’ but ‘pretty is boring’, shooting down the notion of plastic surgery and saying you should just be who you are and take care of yourself. Here is a woman who, in this world of the media causing such low self-esteem in teenagers, could change the world with her messages.

When I sat down to Iris, I wasn’t expecting a lot. I had never heard of the subject and frankly I’m not interested in the pretentious side of fashion. But Iris Apfel is not a pretentious woman, she’s one of the most inspiring individuals I’ve ever seen. Albert Maysles’ penultimate film perfectly captures her endlessly youthful spirit and love of life, and spending 75 minutes in her company will make you feel like you can accomplish anything with the right attitude. Who needs conformity and social norms? Be yourself. Be happy. Be young forever.

Iris is a beautiful portrait of a beautiful individual, and earns a solid 5/5.


Sam Love

Iris at CeX

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