Monday 21 Apr

Dustin Prinz - Eleven

Few musicians take the time to master their instrument in the way that Oklahoma City singer-songwriter Dustin Prinz has; he’s a guitar virtuoso in every sense of the word, and Eleven gives him the chance to show just how far he can push that skill.
04/15/2014 | Comments 0

Horse Thief – Fear in Bliss

Listening to Horse Thief’s previous release — the haphazardly melodramatic Grow Deep, Grow Wild — felt like a chore. Whatever potential the Oklahoma City folk-pop act demonstrated on the EP was obscured behind a formulaic, contrived and ultimately hollow cloud. But it at least offered a glimmer of promise for a band consisting of, frankly, five pretty talented dudes. Critics saw it; the band’s management saw it; its current label, Bella Union, saw it; and its increasingly fervid fan base saw it.
04/08/2014 | Comments 0

Colourmusic — May You Marry Rich

There’s always a sense of danger when debuting songs in a live setting and playing them well. Without having heard the studio versions, expectations are set according to the live incarnations. But capturing the breadth of free-flowing atmosphere and sheer volume on a disc, vinyl or digital file isn’t the easiest thing to do, especially for a band as vociferous as Colourmusic.
04/01/2014 | Comments 0

Em and the MotherSuperiors — Churches into Theaters

As titles go, Churches into Theaters is an apt descriptor for the debut album from Oklahoma City rockers Em and the MotherSuperiors. It’s a reverential record, one that shares the gospel of classic rock, blues and soul but embraces the need to refashion it for modern times, channeling The Dead Weather, Grace Potter and Cage the Elephant along the way.
03/25/2014 | Comments 0

Rachel Brashear — Revolution

Rachel Brashear’s second EP, Revolution, starts with a kick to the shins.
03/18/2014 | Comments 0
Home · Articles · Music · Music · Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work' is...

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work' is an extraordinary, bittersweet documentary about comedy, career and insecurity

Phil Bacharach July 29th, 2010

Without overt manipulation, the film reveals Rivers' complexity with a subtlety that is lacking in Rivers herself.

It would have been easy for the makers of "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" to take a by-the-numbers approach to their subject. Among the pioneers of edgy stand-up comedy " she joked about "putting out" and abortions long before such topics became fodder for female comedians " Rivers was instrumental in paving the way for a generation of funny ladies. "Piece" could have slapped together archival footage, grabbed some obligatory "she's an icon" interviews with Rivers' contemporaries and imitators, and called it a day.

But Rivers is a workhorse, and so is this extraordinary movie. The documentary makers had the distinct advantage of chronicling a tumultuous year in her life, but, then again, the brash 77-year-old comedienne appears to thrive on challenge. She is in constant motion, determined to do whatever she can to reinvent herself " whether that vehicle for a comeback be plastic surgery or competing on "Celebrity Apprentice."

Even if you're not a fan of Rivers, it's hard not to find her compelling. In and out of the limelight over four decades, the actress-turned-comic was such a "Tonight Show" favorite that Johnny Carson made her his permanent guest host. That close friendship crashed when Rivers left to take on her own late-night talk show on Fox.

The new job did not go well. Her husband, Edgar Rosenberg, the show's producer, clashed with network brass. When Rivers refused Fox's insistence that she fire her husband, the network canned the couple. Rosenberg committed suicide, leaving the sudden widow with debts and a career in shambles.

Directors Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg follow Rivers through a grueling year which she previews a one-woman stage play, fires her longtime manager and endures a dizzying schedule of small-town gigs.

Without overt manipulation, they reveal Rivers' complexity with a subtlety that is lacking in Rivers herself. She has a strength seemingly at odds with her need to be loved. Rivers' daughter, Melissa, provides a candid assessment of the insecurity she sees an endemic to most comics: "Laugh at me, laugh with me " just laugh."

The doc does supply a fair amount of laughs. The filmmakers don't linger on the down times, and Rivers is too self-effacing and possesses too much showbiz savvy to indulge in despair. She shows off her file cabinets crammed with 40-plus years of indexed jokes, and she gives viewers a tour of her jaw-droppingly lavish Manhattan penthouse that she says "is how Marie Antoinette would've lived if she'd had money."

The episodic structure mines some wonderfully telling moments. Delivering Thanksgiving meals to hard-luck cases in New York, Rivers meets a onetime avant-garde photographer, Flo Fox, who is now a shut-in. Later that day, Rivers researches her online and comes across an old TV interview of the artist as a young, vibrant woman who had begun succumbing to illness.

"Life is so ... mean," Rivers says, ruefully shaking her head.

It is a statement of genuine compassion, but you also get the impression that Rivers isn't just talking about Flo Fox. --Phil Bacharach
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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