Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
In "Iris" by the master filmmaker Albert Maysles, we are put directly into the life of Iris Apfel, the iconic designer.
With her slender frame shellacked with huge layers of beads and fabric she transforms herself into her own mixed media piece, a voluminous sail of dreams, clashing in texture and tone, from classic to kitsch. In her textile work accented with beads, bars, bangles and baubles, she creates her own personal language that even seems to comment on our hyper-intensive video age in its unabashed riots of color, jagged lines and exotic fabrics.
Each wardrobe that Apfel concocts is a dizzying feast, challenging notions of taste and boundaries. The vibrations of hue and value attack and dance upon Iris' stubborn frame and she often seems to melt into a huge throbbing screen entirely made of cloth necklaces and curios---a prismatic samurai in heavy pink lipstick.
For Iris, to create is to breathe and every ambulatory assemblage is a banner repelling sickness or death.
The famed director Maysles has a light touch here, instead of showing large chunks of Iris' existence, he offers small impressionistic daubs of images, like swatches of moving fabric, and little by little a complete picture appears of Iris in the moment.
She recalls as a child being obsessed by a brooch, held by a "threadbare yet elegant man."
It was her first purchase.
As we watch her origins, she crisscrosses the globe as co-creator of the firm Old World Weavers. She fearlessly goes far and wide, a kind of Indiana Jones of the textile realm, collecting and sampling and reproducing with spontaneity and variety as her only spiritual talismans. She is put in charge of The White House design and decor for nine presidents. Apparently there was conflict with Jackie-O, but Iris remains mum.
She evolves into a pop art figure, a brand name that becomes instantly recognizable through her over-large black framed glasses.
Iris is a dreamlike figure, a benevolent Cruella De Vil, who smiles at peace and is no less than a walking silver screen who projects her self made imaginations on to her own person.
In shape and tone, "Iris" the film, echoes "Bill Cunningham, New York" in its slice of life approach. As Cunningham races to catch his next fashion shoot as quick as Clark Kent, Iris Apfel can be seen as his siren seamstress, creating Cunningham's Superman-blue suit and painting his bicycle, all the better to capture a rapidly disappearing New York, lost to Disney aesthetics. Iris and Bill are joined at the collar as two fashion heroes who actively lament and combat the uniform march of gentrification.
As with Cunningham, Iris Apfel remains steadfast, fixed and stubborn, still searching and reaching for that yet undiscovered fabric floating along a sea of toneless hues. "I'm not a pretty person. I don't like pretty. I'm against most people, I guess, but I don't care."
Equipped with a shield of indifference, Iris drifts through the various realms of Gotham City like her blue cloaked spiritual cousin Bill Cunningham. All the better to capture the next flash of vivid color amidst the ubiquitous urban hues of black and gray.
"Iris" (Albert Maysles last film) does a wonderful job in illuminating Apfel's eclectic quest.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org