Beyond the red carpet for Iris

Stars of the fashion world reflect on Albert Maysles.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

The Paris Theatre première of Albert Maysles' portrait of Iris Apfel
The Paris Theatre première of Albert Maysles' portrait of Iris Apfel

The Paris Theatre Magnolia Pictures première of Albert Maysles' Iris was hosted by Bruce Weber, Jenna Lyons, Alexis Bittar, Stefano Tonchi, Bill Brand, James Gager, Mindy Grossman, Meredith Melling, Isabel and Ruben Toledo, with an introduction of the screening by Albert's daughter Rebekah Maysles.

Among those who attended the glamorous evening were Yigal Azrouel, Lynn Yaeger, Gina Gershon, Dree Hemingway, Carol Alt, Cory Kennedy, Erin Fetherston, Maria Cornejo, Marin Ireland, Robert Verdi, Michelle Harper, Phillip Bloch, Amy Fine Collins, Ike Ude, Hilary Rhoda, Chris Benz, Danielle Snyder, Jodie Snyder, Johan Lindeberg, Kate Foley, Nicky Hilton, Kelly Rutherford, Josh Braun, Dan Braun, Cricket Burns, Allison Serafin, America Olivo, Jay Manuel, Joanna Mastroianni, Christian Campbell, Erin Beatty, Elle King, Hailey Gates, Hal Rubenstein, Willy Muse, Louise Roe, Jeffrey Costello and Robert Tagliapietra.

Iris Apfel on Albert Maysles: "Oh, he [Albert] was the greatest. I'm very lucky, very lucky."
Iris Apfel on Albert Maysles: "Oh, he [Albert] was the greatest. I'm very lucky, very lucky." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Last month, filmmakers Morgan Neville (2014 Oscar winner for 20 Feet From Stardom), Fabien Constant (Mademoiselle C), Varon Bonicos (A Man's Story), Keyhole director Guy Maddin, author and journalist Gay Talese shared their thoughts with Eye For Film on the passing of the great documentarian Albert Maysles at the age of 88, on March 5, in New York City.

Iris (2014), the last film Albert Maysles presented at the New York Film Festival, is about a truly individual style icon, the then 93-year-old master of the accessory, Iris Apfel, who together with her 100 plus husband of 66 plus years, Carl, was Maysles' friend. In his film, he has her explain the art of dressing herself, a fascinating philosophical endeavor to watch. Iris is very opposed to plastic surgery because "some people come out looking like a Picasso." Dries Van Noten, Jenna Lyons, Alexis Bittar, Martha Stewart, and Bruce Weber comment, the latter also on Maysles, that "the ladies are all over Albert."

On the red carpet with Iris Apfel in orange:

Anne-Katrin Titze: You are a great storyteller with clothes.

Iris Apfel: Oh thank you!

AKT: Did you have favorite stories that inspired you when you were little?

Alexis Bittar on being in Iris: "When he looked at you, he had piercing eyes."
Alexis Bittar on being in Iris: "When he looked at you, he had piercing eyes." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Iris Apfel: Everything inspires me. I like to do stuff. I'm inspired every day just by getting up.

AKT: Do you feel like a storyteller with clothes?

Iris Apfel: People tell me I am. I was not aware of it but people say I am. I'm thinking about it now.

AKT: It's wonderful to see you on camera with Albert Maysles.

Iris Apfel: Oh, he was the greatest. I'm very lucky, very lucky.

AKT: How did you put together tonight's outfit ?

Iris Apfel: I heard the weather was chilly. I love orange. I have this nice wonderful Navajo necklace that my husband just recently gave to me. And I thought I'd throw it all together.

Anne-Katrin Titze: How did you feel being filmed by Albert Maysles?

Alexis Bittar: I have seen a lot of his work. So for me it was working with someone you respect so much, that I was a little bit intimidated because he's got such a keen eye. When he looked at you, he had piercing eyes. You want to make sure that you are giving your best, in terms of representing Iris.

AKT: Did you have a favorite Maysles film before this one?

Jenna Lyons on Albert Maysles: "I have to say he's one of my favorite directors."
Jenna Lyons on Albert Maysles: "I have to say he's one of my favorite directors." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Alexis Bittar: Grey Gardens. That's what was haunting me. I was thinking - is he going to make me look like Grey Gardens? How is he going to make me look like Grey Gardens?

AKT: I think he did.

Edith Bouvier Beale, cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, has become a style inspiration to this day, ever since Albert, together with his brother, David, gave us Grey Gardens in 1976.

Alexis Bittar: A hint of Little Edie?

AKT: Iris looks fabulous tonight. Are you surprised every time you see her? When did you first meet?

Alexis Bittar: No. I mean, it's Iris, right? I would be surprised if she wasn't like that. My first memory of her is when she wanted to wear me for the opening of her show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She wanted to pull the sale sample to wear for that evening or two evenings and I wouldn't give it to her. And then I saw her after the show and I said, "Iris, the show is amazing." And she came and she hit me in the head and she was like, "You Bozo, I just wanted to wear you for the show!" That's where we really clicked in.

AKT: Is there a movie that you'd say inspired your style?

Rebekah Maysles with Dan Braun and Josh Braun on Iris: "There's something about her being defiant and strong…"
Rebekah Maysles with Dan Braun and Josh Braun on Iris: "There's something about her being defiant and strong…" Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Alexis Bittar: My style? I wouldn't pinpoint a movie but I would say Marlene Dietrich would be up there. If I had to really target a movie I would say it's probably… what is it? Something Venus?

AKT: Blonde Venus. Joseph von Sternberg with Cary Grant.

Alexis Bittar: Blonde Venus! When she comes out with the ape outfit? There's something so glamorous about the way she plays with gender, the way she plays with glamour. To me it's still unbeatable.

Anne-Katrin Titze: How was it being filmed by Albert Maysles?

Jenna Lyons: Oh, I have to say he's one of my favourite directors. I'm so sad that he is not here tonight. It was incredible, a wonderful experience. He was so unobtrusive but then also so interested and very poignant in the things he asked and the questions he wanted to know and the way he brought all of us in. It was really an incredible experience. I'm very happy that I got to meet him.

AKT: Do you have a favorite film of his?

Jenna Lyons: Salesman.

Anne-Katrin Titze: When did you first become aware of Iris Apfel?

Iris Apfel flirting with Bruce Weber at the Southgate after party
Iris Apfel flirting with Bruce Weber at the Southgate after party Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Doreen Small (executive producer): I became aware of Iris at the time of the Met Gala. I went to see the [2005 Costume Institute] show [Rara Avis: Selections from the Iris Barrel Apfel Collection]. I had seen her pictures in the Times but I really hadn't put the two things together. So that was the first real awareness and then I read the catalogue for the show and learned more about her.

AKT: How did you get involved in the project?

Doreen Small: I was approached by one of the producers, Laura Coxson, when the film was already, not in its early stages, it was already fairly well in development. Then I came along towards the end of this. I got to know Iris only a little bit.

AKT: Unfortunately, Albert Maysles isn't here tonight. He was such a great supporter of young filmmakers and young people like Iris.

Doreen Small: Young people like her, truly. I think the two of them were kindred spirits. I think they enjoyed the process and we are very very proud of the outcome.

President of Magnolia Pictures, Eamonn Bowles, introduced Rebekah Maysles before she presented the screening of Iris at The Paris Theatre.

Laura Coxson with Michael Becker on Iris: "It was really a collaboration and everyone really got along so well."
Laura Coxson with Michael Becker on Iris: "It was really a collaboration and everyone really got along so well." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Rebekah Maysles: It's really exciting for Magnolia to be taking us into this new life of the film and also to be here at The Paris Theatre where my father and my uncle showed Salesman and Grey Gardens. When he was sick, he knew that [Iris] was going to be playing here and it made him really happy. The only thing that's missing is him. But he's here, he's really in it in his heart. The other person who made this really possible is Iris who was just so patient and understanding and excited and was a really great team member, though we've been putting her through a lot of things. You'll notice her in the orange - [wild applause erupts].

At the Southgate after party on Central Park South, I spoke with producer Laura Coxson, about the origin of the movie, Michael Becker on sound, Bruce Weber on his Robert Mitchum project, Eamonn Bowles on style and Rebekah Maysles on her father and Iris.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Where did the project originate?

Laura Coxson: When I was working at Maysles Films, Jennifer Ash Rudick, one of the producers, called me and e-mailed me and said "I think I have an interesting idea. I'm friendly with Iris. Can we meet up?" So she and Iris came to the Maysles Film office and she and I and Albert and Iris all just started talking and chatting and started to really click. This was like March 2011 and we just started filming. We started filming this class she did with students from Texas and then we just didn't stop for four years. It was really a collaboration and everyone really got along so well.

AKT: You did the sound for the film. Is there a sound moment you particularly like?

Michael Becker: I like when she is at home in her apartment and she really opens up. She's a fascinating person and their apartment is a wonderland.

Isabel and Ruben Toledo walked the Iris red carpet at The Paris Theatre
Isabel and Ruben Toledo walked the Iris red carpet at The Paris Theatre

AKT: Bruce Weber in the film says "it's the most perfect house for two children."

Laura Coxson: Michael did a really good job of capturing the sound of her jewellery.

AKT: Lovely choice to start the movie with the sound of her bracelets.

Laura Coxson: We wanted to include more of that, incorporate that more, but we didn't have the time. You can hear her coming down the hallway.

Michael Becker: That's part of her personality. She knows how to appreciate life and what's around her.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Your observations of Iris and Carl and their apartment go straight to the core of the matter. How is your Robert Mitchum project shaping up?

Bruce Weber: Oh thank you. It's coming along, thank you for asking.

Anne-Katrin Titze: How did Magnolia Pictures get involved with Iris?

Eamonn Bowles: It was at the New York Film Festival and we fell in love with it basically. The filmmakers liked us and we bought it for the worldwide release. There was a DOC [NYC] lunch in December that Thom Powers of the IFC Center had put on and there was this amalgamation of almost every great documentary filmmaker. I had met Albert over the years and something he said made me stop in my tracks. He said "finally we get to make a film together." And I was like, "what? I've been bowing down to you!" I wish he were here tonight. I love that he is in the film as well.

Bergdorf Goodman window tribute to Iris: "I don't have any rules because I would only be breaking them" - Iris Apfel
Bergdorf Goodman window tribute to Iris: "I don't have any rules because I would only be breaking them" - Iris Apfel Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: There is a lot of heart in a film that deals a lot with inanimate objects. The choices we make in what we surround ourselves with.

Eamonn Bowles: What am I saying to the world when I go out? How we sort of manifest that in the way we assemble our daily… like I am a very utilitarian dresser. I am personally the exact opposite of Iris. One of the key things she says in the film is that it's more important that you feel good…

AKT: "It's better to be happy than well-dressed." You are happy and you look good tonight.

Eamonn Bowles: Oh thank you very much. It's got to go hand in hand.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Thank you for the lovely introduction at The Paris Theatre. How did it feel watching the film tonight?

Rebekah Maysles: The scene at the very end, when she is walking down the hall, that used to make me cry. Because there's something about her being defiant and strong and old age and there's something really beautiful about that.

AKT: Your father and Iris didn't know each other that long, did they?

Rebekah Maysles: Since 2011, since the film started.

AKT: I had seen Iris first last Fall at the New York Film Festival. I didn't notice it then, but tonight there was a moment that reminded me of Grey Gardens.

Albert Maysles' Iris party at Southgate filled with pizzazz
Albert Maysles' Iris party at Southgate filled with pizzazz Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Rebekah Maysles: I don't think that I noticed it as much while we were working on it. It was an obvious connection that people made that didn't make sense to me because she is so different. But then when I was watching it more and more, I noticed this more. There's a lot of films that are coming out that are all about this distance between the filmmaker and the subject.

And they all try to make it seem like the filmmaker doesn't exist. That's not true. Especially in the films my dad made, it's not true. So when I kind of started recognizing their flirtation and how fun it was, I started noticing it more.

AKT: The flirtation between them is a big part of the dynamics. Bruce Weber points it out on camera with a grin.

Rebekah Maysles: You can't deny it. She has fun being a part of it. There is something similar although they are very different.

AKT: Filmmaking is in a way seduction. Or can be. Alexis Bittar told me before that screening that he was in awe of your father and not sure how he would come across. Maybe like Edie Beale.

Rebekah Maysles: I can't imagine what it would be like to have a film made about me. I would never want a film made about me. I think it takes a lot of chutzpa to allow someone to do it. And then I look at my dad and think, that my dad had this ability to make you be really natural and make you feel okay.

AKT: People seem very happy to be here tonight. There is a great sense of benevolence in the air. Not always the case at fashion parties.

Rebekah Maysles: It's like a family - like this weird, fun, dysfunctional family where everybody takes care of each other.

AKT: Surrounding in its center an orange furry. The relationship of people and their objects is something the film explores, too. We just borrow, never own.

Rebekah Maysles: You know, some people asked me if I think Iris is a hoarder. I come from a family that always had a lot of stuff around. But all those things mean something to you. They are important to you. It's funny, I would watch it and there'd be new animals I would notice. New stuffed animals. There's this one scene - and I had seen that scene many many times - all of a sudden I was like oh my god, there's this really cute weird stuffed animal that looks like an owl and I had never noticed it before.

The Tribeca Film Festival announced last night that the new name of the Best New Documentary Director Award will be The Albert Maysles New Documentary Director Award.

Iris opens in New York at Film Forum on April 29.

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