The War Trail: Spending Every Waking Moment With Joan Rivers

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Published May 3, 2010

JOAN RIVERS IN JOAN RIVERS: A PIECE OF WORK

 

Groundbreaking and vulgar comedian, red carpet-maven pet peeve, plastic surgery proponent, and unhealthy beauty role model Joan Rivers has survived the limelight, and she’s got the scars to prove it.  A new documentary, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, follows the comedian for a year as she claws her way back into the social consciousness. Intertwining her past achievements and failures with her present life, we see the sheer tenacity it takes to become a comedic legend.  While trying to regain her footing Rivers, ever the workaholic, promotes herself both by writing a heartfelt one-woman play and offering to hawk penile enhancement pills.  At a panel after a screening this weekend at the Tribeca Film Festival, Rivers discussed being drawn to the stage. “From the time I could put two sentences together–in kindergarten I played a pussycat and they put a funny hat on me. I thought ‘This is it!’ and that was it. There was nothing else to discuss my entire life. That was where I was going.  I had no choice.  I love my work and I’m like a drug addict.”

The film tackles the subject of aging in a field defined by looks. The footage of Rivers’s first television appearances in grainy black-and-white is juxtaposed with her current life, filmed in unforgiving hi-def color.  It’s a revelation, and shows just rare it is to that a 75-year-old woman gets anything done in show business.  Her eternal drive to work suddenly makes sense. Her ability to remain current is born out of sheer will.  It’s a testament to her will that she has remained as famous as she has, in spite of the fact that she has had only sporadic success in television and films.  “I’ve never been offered.  I’ve never been offered a television series and I’ve never been offered a role in a movie.  But you’re not going to dwell on that ‘Oh boo-hoo’ But nobody ever called me about a sitcom… but Betty White that bitch!  And she’s not 88 she’s 82!  She’s just lying to get attention.  [Laughs] Wouldn’t that be funny if she went the other way?  She’s 88 but you bitch I’m 106!”

Although the film mines her background and personal life, it’s a simple shot of Rivers getting ready that is the most shocking. It’s the rarest sighting of them all, a barefaced Joan Rivers.  In the opening scenes of the film, the camera closes in on a very delicate looking Rivers as she applies her daily war paint. It’s not until the end that the “Joan Rivers” is shown centered and framed.  During the panel the filmmakers admitted they had shot the scene in more detail than Rivers expected.  “No I didn’t know [about the scene] till I saw the film ‘Ha… ha.’ There goes my chance for a fourth marriage.”