Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 30, 2014 4:49 pm 
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Style never grows old

As the percentage of citizens who are older increases, more attention is drawn to their activities, one of which appears to be dressing up. Hence there is a new film by Lina Plioplyte called Advanced Style, about Ari Cohen, a blogger and photographer who focuses on older women he finds stylish. A couple of years ago there was Bill Cunningham: New York, about the tireless octogenarian New York Times lensman with the old-fashioned Bostonian accent who snaps stylish men and women on the streets of Manhattan and at chic galas, as he has done for decades. Cunningham makes several fleeting appearances in the New York Film Festival's documentary sidebar film Iris, which not only spotlights the remarkable eighty-something fashionista Iris Apfel and her loving husband, who celebrates his hundredth birthday in the film, but is shot by the veteran documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles, who himself is eighty-seven.

Iris is about style as flamboyance. Nothing understated; nothing modest, but asserted by a simple pin, in Iris' looks, which involve bright-colored ensembles, mixing clothes from the famous designers with secondhand finds. But the key to her effects is something she says her mother taught her: accessorize, accessorize, accessorize. And does she ever. Iris piles on heavy necklaces and bracelets that must weigh as much as her small frame. She's a slight woman, with close-cropped white hair and signature big round glasses. Their shape never varies, though the frame colors do and the lenses shift from dark to clear.

Albert Maysles (whose brother and filmmaking partner died in the Eighties) chose a good time to cover Iris Apfel, because she seems to move from being known in the fashion trade to becoming downright famous during the period documented. In the film, we find that a show put on about her by the Metropolitan Museum, which went on tour to other locations, each in her view better than the last, is as a result living the life of a celebrity, despite her husband's increasing age and her own health problems (a broken hip, which she conceals from her husband). She is frequently interviewed, is photographed by the likes of Bruce Weber (a longtime admirer) lectures to young women about fashion, and is seen shopping and bargaining for clothes and accessories, including in Harlem. More about this than about Iris and her husband's business careers, though passing mention is made of her company making reproductions of old fabrics, and her interior designing. These must have been profitable? At least they have impressive, richly jumbled digs on Park Avenue and in Palm Springs, in addition to a huge storage warehouse for her endless accumulations in Long Island City.

It is a basic principle for Iris that being "pretty" isn't important, and is ephemeral. Though images of her earlier in her sixty-six year marriage show she was quite a good-looking woman, she is an eccentric peacock rather than a swan. Style (and ego) are excellent preservatives. The other message of the film is positivity. Iris's good humor and wit are evident in her every utterance, and also in her husband's. Clearly their attitudes and their loving marriage have added life to their years that anyone would envy, or take as a role model.

As Maysles documentaries go, this is a minor one, enjoyable though it is. The Maysles are most famous for Salesman (1968), Gimme Shelter (1970) and Grey Gardens (1975). They beautifully documented Christo's Valley Curtain (1974) and Running Fence (1977) and Christo in Paris (1990). There are several films showing the older Horowitz, The Last Romantic (1985) and Horowitz Plays Mozart (1987) But there are many others. Not to be confused with D.A. Pennebaker (which I was doing), who is famous for the iconic 1967 Boy Dylan movie Don't Look Back, as well as Monterey Pop.

Iris, 73 mins., was screened for this review as part of the Spotlight on Documentary series of the 52nd New York Film Festival, the film's world premiere; it subsequently showed in nearly two dozen film festivals. Albert Maysles passed away in March 2015 and this was his second-to-last film; the final one is In Transit, a coming documentary that explores the stories of passengers aboard the long-distance train The Empire Builder. Iris opened in US theaters Wed., 29 April 2015.

(For my full coverage of the 2014 NYFF see also FILMLEAF.)

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