I’ll make quick headway on my new mandate with this early morning post. From a young age, I’ve made a note of where I was when I saw a particular film, in addition to the film itself, so I hope this series will be a way to explore those memories and experiences in greater reflective detail.
Reflecting on current events in the entertainment world, the clear cinematic choice for this week has to be Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, an acclaimed documentary from 2010 that “briefly” (since she was such a hard and consistent worker) turned the conversation about Rivers to one of her legacy and impact on other comedians. That same mindset is once again in the mix today following her unfortunately sudden death.
(From a quick look at the internet, it seems that other writers are also re-visiting this title today.)
This film was the only movie I ever saw at the Stonestown Twin on the south side of San Francisco, and I’m fairly sure that I specifically chose to catch the film there, rather than one of the downtown SF cinemas or one back in Marin County. The cinema, which is still in operation today, offers an oddly aged 1970’s twin complex – in the sense that it has not been upgraded or changed hands, etc – and obviously began life as a single screen. At some point, the complex was twinned, but not all of the seats were adjusted, and some of them face closer to the wall than the actual screen. The screen I visited, on the right side of the complex, was a long bowling – alley style auditorium that I remember being popular prior to the rise and eventual ubiquity of stadium seating in movie theaters.
The film itself took an uncompromising and honest examination of Rivers’ career, initially focusing on her in a downturn moment of her work, where she was not stopped working, but not enjoying the same level of fame and success that she had in the past. Rivers brought the filmmakers and the audience right in to her process, explaining how she feared not having anything to do with her life and followed a workaholic type schedule of her bookings and performances to hide that fact. The film also gave a look at some of her earlier work, including appearances on The Tonight Show and other stand – up performances.
I was disappointed, however, that the film did not include a clip from my first introduction to Rivers’ work, in the classic Muppets Take Manhattan:
Ultimately the documentary continued to follow Rivers as she regained momentum in her career through winning the Celebrity Apprentice and other related activities. It’s clear that she continued to maintain that energy all the way to the end.
It is sad that Rivers’ death came suddenly and under what sounds like questionable circumstances, but it seems appropriate that she left on a high note and with a sense of the acclaim she maintained, and the legacy she secured.