The Late Albert Maysles Crafts Loving Portrait of “Iris” For Final Film. IFFB: Independent Film Festival Boston Reviews

By Scott Kurland

Film: Iris
Starring: Iris Apfel
Rated PG-13
Director: Albert Maysles

    Documentaries are highly overlooked and under appreciated in the world of cinema. I dont understand why a lot of people shrug and roll their eyes when they hear the words “documentary film”. It's true, some of these movies can seem boring at times, and most of the subject matter revolves around global warming or companies that embezzled. However, one documentarian has been delighting audiences since 1955, and that man is Albert Maysles. Maysles, along with his late brother David, showed us worlds that only could be seen through the eye of a camera lens. This week’s film “Iris” was one of Albert’s final films before he passed away in March. Is “Iris” Albert’s final masterpiece to end a wonderful career in film? Let’s find out shall we?

   “Iris” is the story of Iris Apfel. If you haven’t heard of her, don’t worry. Her handy-work can be seen mainly in stores or on the runway.You’ll be surprised to learn that Apfel was the primary interior designer and decorator for the White House; serving under nine Presidents (Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Clinton). Iris, to put it simply, is a fashion icon. She’s had shows at Fashion Week in New York, L.A., and overseas. She also has one of the world’s largest collections of costume jewelry; a collection which has been showcased in museums including The Met and The Peabody Essex Museum. As Iris prepares for her husband’s 100th birthday, we get to see what it's like to walk a mile in her shoes.

   Capturing your subject on film for a documentary is rather hard. If you pry too much, your subject may reveal some rather unflattering details. If you don’t pry enough, you’ll never see past the surface. But that's where Iris shines her spotlight. She’s an open book but some of the chapters are missing. We learn so much about her life and her struggles throughout the film. And after 90 minutes, she becomes the Grandmother you always wish you had. Iris has more energy and life than any five people you’ll meet, living or fictional. Yes, her fashion sense is quirky and iconic. Not to mention she voices her opinion too much at times. Still, this woman has more spirit than those less than half her age. Her story was well received at the Independent Film Festival Boston; so much so that it was given a standing ovation.

   “Iris” is one of two films Maysles directed before he passed. The other was “In Transit,” a documentary that takes place on a train. Both films capture the sensibility of Maysles. Like “Iris,” his films can be all over the place. Then again, like “In Transit” he can keep things grounded. Maysles is an award winning director and was the recipient of the 2013 national medal of honor from President Obama for his work. If you ever met Albert, you’d know one thing; he’s just an average guy who wants to shoot most of his films himself. 

  What's great about  “Iris” is knowing how involved the crew and Maysles were in making this film. Iris interacts with Maysles and his videographers; something which is normally frowned upon, but it works really well here. Details like that show off Iris’ good nature and kind heart. Everything about this documentary is vibrant and full of life. This film may also be funnier than most big studio films out today. “Iris” is not just a fly-on-the-wall look at a fashion designer, it’s also a love story. At times we don’t see enough of it, but the way Iris and her husband Carl love each other is very pure and sweet. We get a glimpse of this 67 year marriage, and it’s one of the most compelling love stories depicted on the screen.

   “Iris” is the best film I saw at the festival this year, and might be one of the best films to come out of 2015. Maysles has made so many great films like “Salesman”, “Grey Gardens”, and “Gimme Shelter”. However, none of them hold a candle to “Iris.” This is a brilliant film about one of the most unique and gifted fashionistas to walk this Earth. Maysles should be proud this film, and it’s the perfect film to wrap up his legendary career as a filmmaker. “Iris” is playing the festival circuit but will be released in May starting in New York and L.A. before it comes to Boston. This  is a perfect film. Go see it when you can.

scott kurlandComment