A flamboyant interior designer for the White House through 9 presidents with a vivacious wardrobe, it was only fitting that someone would come along and give Iris the documentary treatment. That individual was none other than legendary director Albert Maysles. As a pioneer in the world of documentaries, Maysles gave viewers an intimate look into the peculiar lives of the aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in Grey Gardens. Viewers also saw the events leading up to the disastrous free Altamont Concert in the Rolling Stones documentary Gimme Shelter. Now with Iris, fans of the icon will get to see the woman behind the large glasses.
Rebekah Maysles producer of Iris and the daughter of the late Albert Maysles discussed her father’s legacy and shared some of the memorable moments throughout the film. Here is our conversation.
TCL: What was it about Iris that sparked the interest of your father and how did this make her a good subject for a documentary?
RM: Laura who is one of the other producers on the film was there when Iris and my dad met. And she always said that they had a meeting that they thought would take a half hour and went on for two hours. They just really got along from the beginning. I think he just enjoyed watching her work, I would hear him say to her “Iris just call us up when something comes up and we can film it”- he loved to film more than anything and Iris was always doing something so it was a good match. I think he liked filming her because she was fun and adventurous and honestly because he loved to film. She was always doing something and didn’t mind having him around.
TCL: With this being one of your father’s final documentary, what would you say is the overall message that your father wanted to convey with the film?
RM: My father was interested in people and kindness. He was always interested in making portrait films, just following people being themselves with hopes that if you watch a film you will find something in common with the person you had just been introduced to. In the last year of my father’s life he finished two feature films Iris and In Transit– both films are about people living and just being themselves. I think he believed in honesty and an open heart and I think this really comes out in his work.
TCL: As we get a peek into Iris’s life, what would you say are the standout moments throughout the film?
RM: I don’t know if I have a favorite moment. I loved when she tried on lots of outfits and I loved when we were in Palm Beach together and seeing my dad sit and film Carl. I loved the moments at her house both in New York and Palm Beach. I really like a lot of the Florida footage, the hectic times in her house where everyone is talking over each other and then the quiet times when she is writing things down and on the phone working. In general I really enjoyed the moments at her home.
TCL: As you helped with the creation of the film, describe your favorite moment with Iris?
RM: I loved how small our crew was, and enjoyed working with a great group of people who loved working together. I think the times I was most fond of was watching my father film Iris, and Carl together. I know my father enjoyed watching them interact and being so good to each other so I think that’s what I enjoyed. I loved eating with her and watching her open her flip phone. I loved walking into the hallway of Iris’s building with our small crew and talking to the man at the desk, waiting to go upstairs in the small ornate elevator.
TCL: There are many fashion documentaries, what would you say separates Iris from the rest?
I think this film isn’t really about fashion. It’s about hard work and creativity- not to say that that can’t be in a fashion film but I am not as interested in fashion as I am in relationships and good jokes. I can’t speak for both my dad and Iris, but I think if you asked them they too are not as interested in fashion. They are just into living well and being open to things around you.
If you want to learn even more about Iris Apfel, Iris is currently showing at the Music Box Theatre.