By Gregory Crofton
So cool to see the Maysles Films logo appear at the start of the film. You know it stands for quality. In this case it’s one of Albert Maysles’ final pieces of work – IRIS – about Iris Apfel, a 93-year-old costume jewelry and fashion collector, a woman who makes bold, fabulous outfits out of items she buys.
Maysles, best known for the documentary films he made with his late brother David — SALESMAN, GREY GARDENS, GIMME SHELTER — starts IRIS with a black screen and a sound. The sound that Iris makes as she lays one large beaded necklace atop another. It’s a nice touch. This 80-minute doc is full of such stylish moments, whether it’s because the music is perfectly placed, or the title cards and credits are just bold enough, or Maysles surreptitiously captures a conversation between Iris and her husband Carl about how many yogurts are left in the fridge.
She and Carl, who turns 100 in the film, make a charming couple. “That’s where my money goes to buy my baby’s clothes,” he sings light-heartedly in the film. “Either that or give it to Uncle Sam. Rather give it to her.” They are a team for the ages, and they’ve made it through the ages together. Before Iris became a “rare bird of fashion,” the husband-and-wife team established Old World Weavers, a textile and design business that did restoration work at The White House for nine U.S. presidents.
But Iris’ days as a fashion icon are relatively new. In 2005 the Costume Institute at Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibited her collection showing various outfits she designed and assembled. Since then her fame has grown. Today she gets 50 phone calls a day, many related to booked fashion award ceremonies and photo shoots.
HANDHELD AND FROM THE HEART, a yet-to-be finished autobiographical film from Albert Maysles, is currently in production at his film company. The title is Maysles’ philosophy behind the camera. He cares for his subjects and they care for him. And this shows up on the screen in IRIS.
Its final scene comes during the end credits. Maysles takes a seat next to Iris during a break from filming. She asks if he wants some tea, making sure he’s OK. He looks a little tired and she makes sure he gets to rest for a minute or two. Maysles died in March at the age of 88. He was living through the process of getting older as he shot the film over four years. And age, outside of fashion and the definition of beauty, is a key storyline. “I’m vertical,” Iris says often when she’s asked how’s she doing. Maysles, though he’s hardly in the film at all, gets a say too. “You made it this far, you can go futher,” Maysles says. “That’s my idea.”
**In addition to HANDHELD FROM THE HEART, Maysles Films is in the process of releasing another documentary from Albert Maysles, IN TRANSIT. A number of directors worked on the project, which looks at life on a long-distance Amtrack train. Here’s a trailer for the film.
**Also you can check out a tip sheet Albert Maysles put together on how to best shoot a documentary here.