Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (2010)

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Released 16-Feb-2011

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Audio Commentary-Joan Rivers.
Outtakes-Over 50 mins of unused footage.
Interviews-Cast & Crew-Sundance screening Q & A with star and directors.
Theatrical Trailer-2:27 : 1.78 and 16x9 same quality as feature.
Trailer-Exit Through the Gift Shop
Trailer-Patti Smith : Dream of Life
Trailer-With Gilbert and George
Trailer-Alice Neel
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2010
Running Time 81:28 (Case: 84)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Ricki Stern
Anne Sundberg
Studio
Distributor
Break Thru Film
Madman Entertainment
Starring Joan Rivers
Patrick Alparone
Melissa Rivers
George Carlin
Kathy Griffin
Johnny Carson
Edgar Cooper Endicott
Phyllis Diller
Annie Duke
Flo Fox
Case Custom Packaging
RPI $34.95 Music Paul Brill


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Auto Pan & Scan Encoded English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 5.1 (224Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures Yes
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, The making up scene begins instantly.

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

†††† Over the past couple of weeks I have seen two excellent documentaries. First there was That Man Peter Berlin, a study of the gay sex/porn icon from the 70s, and now there comes Joan Rivers : A Piece of Work in which the filmmakers spend a year with the seventy-five year old comedian. I was prepared to enjoy this 2010 Sundance Film Festival winner, as Joan Rivers is one of the few people who actually make me laugh, but I was not prepared to see what is undoubtedly the most searingly honest look at a working entertainer I have ever seen.

†††† Directors Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg have previously won wide acclaim for The End of America (2008), a documentary which examines the ten steps a nation takes in its slide toward fascism. With the recommendation of this previous work, they were granted "unprecedented, unguarded access" to Joan Rivers as she worked her way through 2009, a year with many highs and just as many lows. We see Joan at the beginning of the film totally devoid of makeup, one eye filling the merciless screen, and then we watch as the wonders of makeup transform her into the image that we know. There have been many - countless? - cosmetic procedures carried out on the Riversí face, but what she, and the surgeons, have created is an iconically glamorous grandmother. Topped by her bouffant blonde mop, she has echoes of the last days of Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich. Footage from her early days as a comic show that way back then she much more resembled any "ordinary housewife". The Joan Rivers we see today has been created by the entertainer herself, much as Peter Berlin created himself in the image of his own fantasised sexual ideal. I'm tempted to start generalising about an entertainer's persona and his or her true self, but I'm sure you can find examples for yourself drawn from performers that you particularly admire.

†††† Joan Rivers makes me laugh! The key word here is "makes". Her last visit to Australia for the Logies caused a furore. What on earth did they expect? It's Joan Rivers! Initially I can be repulsed by, and resistant to, her vulgarity. In a recent Graham Norton Show appearance on British TV, I began by almost begging her not to say what I feared was going to come out of her mouth. But out it comes.. then there's more ... and more again, as she piles on shock after shock.Rivers is relentless until ultimately one gives up and surrenders to her explosively crude wit. By the end of her dissertation Norton was in pain, one of her fellow interviewees, Johnny Knoxville, was on his knees worshipping at her feet and I was in tears. Even though at first I may not want to, eventually the lady makes me laugh.

†††† Through the twelve months covered by the documentary we follow, or travel with, Joan as she works almost non-stop jumping from venue to venue. Some "rooms" are grand, like the Lincoln Centre for a tribute to deceased comic George Carlin, while others are less so, a snow bound club in an almost inaccessible pocket of America. Through it all she works like a Trojan, always with her insecurities and fears just beneath the surface. For her the scariest thing is a blank diary, indicating that there are no bookings and no-one wants her. She is at her happiest fully committed whether it's to a book signing or a gala in Washington. There are sequences with Joan interacting with her daughter Melissa, the filmmakers themselves, her house staff - husband and wife who look after her - taxi drivers, hot dog vendors, fans after an autograph, and even kids on the street calling out "I know you". We see her talking to doormen, voting at her local polling booth, and dealing - badly - with a heckler she has upset with "a Helen Keller joke". This professional lapse on her part is obviously deeply disturbing to her. We also see her as the target for a particularly cruel ":roast".

†††† We see the hopes and aspirations she has for the play she has written and takes to the Edinburgh Festival. The play has success there and so it's on to London. More audience success but London reviews knock her. Disillusioned and fearful of possibly bad "home town" reviews, she cancels the New York opening. Then comes the offer of Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice, which others advise is below her. However, she accepts, along with daughter Melissa. On and on she rolls with seemingly endless energy, existing on a few hours sleep each night. There are sequences of extreme warmth and tenderness as we learn about her deceased husband, her "lost" manager and her reaction to the recipient of a charity Thanksgiving dinner delivered by Joan. This is a remarkable lady.

†††† I have rarely seen any film, fictional or documentary, that better captures the knife edge existence of a genuinely gifted entertainer. Fictionally, Judy Garland's I Could Go On Singing did it, as in the dressing room scene between Garland and Dirk Bogarde, and Judy in the wings at The London Palladium shouting "Go" as her overture reaches its crescendo. I can think of no other. The terror of stand-up comedy, one solitary person facing the audience, without orchestra or partner, has no parallel in show business.

†††† The documentary is brilliantly compiled by Ricki Stern and her assistant director Anne Sundberg. Charles Miller's photography is flawless, Paul Brillís music is modern, smart and attractively adds female voices as part of the instrumentation. The editing is superbly executed by Penelope Falk. The fifty minutes of unedited "extras" show just how much art goes into editing footage such as this. Then there is the fabulous full length commentary by the lady herself that creates a second different, and equally enjoyable, experience. These are two of the best hours I have spent in front of my TV for a long, long time. We should treasure Joan Rivers while we have her. She is a rare bird.

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Transfer Quality

Video

†††† The transfer is presented at the original aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and is 16x9 enhanced.

†††† The transfer is flawless. Obviously filmed with hand held cameras, the image is steady and controlled, making a joke of the so-called "realistic" hand held phoniness employed by some filmmakers. The image is extremely sharp and clear, benefitting from the extensive use of massive close-ups of the Rivers face. At times it looks like Blu-ray. Colour is excellent - rich and deep, with outstanding skin tones. There are some sequences onstage, where the lighting is murky or otherwise poor, with apparent grain. They also look great.

†††† Detail is excellent, noted in the shots of Joan Rivers' apartment. Where there is a night scene the shadow detail is extremely good. There is no low level noise. No artefacts of any kind were noted.

†††† This is a high class product, with top quality evident in every area.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

†††† There are three audio streams on this disc : English Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded at 448 Kbps, English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround Encoded at 224 Kbps and English Commentary Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded at 224 Kbps.

†††† Basically dialogue centred, and with voices front and centre, the surrounds are used for Paul Brill's excellent music. Instruments sparkle, and the female voices wordlessly contribute much to the score. Dialogue is crystal clear - just as well as off stage Joan Rivers can talk at a breakneck pace, frequently omitting syllables.

†††† There are no sync problems and no flaws of any kind.

†††† The soundtrack, like the rest of the documentary and its subject when in public, is immaculate.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

†††† There is a pleasing bag of extras that doubles the pleasure of this excellent documentary.

Audio Commentary

†††† Full feature length commentary by Joan Rivers, with little prompts from the director. This is excellent. Always interesting, often extremely funny and outrageous, and also at times sensitive and moving. Her silence when what is on screen upsets her possibly supplies the most profound moments. Rivers has anecdotes galore to supplement what is on the screen, and the documentary takes on a whole different life with this track. The only negative is that no attempt is made to raise the audio level of the feature when there is no commentary - which is rare, I admit. Do not miss this commentary.

Extra Scenes (50:40)

†††† These are basically unedited segments not used in the documentary itself. Some are :

Q and A Session (16:23)

†††† Filmed from the audience, and a bit shaky, this session was conducted before and after the 2010 Sundance Film Festival screening - at which the documentary won in its category. Miss Rivers answers everything thrown at her.

Theatrical Trailer (2:27) :

†††† This is an excellent trailer, with quality and presentation equal to the feature itself.

Madman Trailers

†††† Exit Through the Gift Shop(1:28), Patti Smith : Dream of Life (1:48), With Gilbert and George (3:13) and Alice Neel (2:45).

Censorship

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R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

††† Our Region 4 release misses out on†TV Spots and English and Spanish subtitles.

Summary

†††† Joan Rivers : A Piece of Work won the documentary prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, and it is an unmissable treat for anyone who is interested in comedy or the entertainment industry. It is a devastatingly honest look at a working entertainer as we travel with her through the highs and lows of a working year. Joan Rivers is a great comic, a truly remarkable lady, and the documentary itself is excellent. Flawless image, editing and sound make this is one of the best DVDs of the year. The extras, particularly the subject's full length commentary, double the entertainment value. Top marks for one of the top DVDs of this or any year.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Garry Armstrong (BioGarry)
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Review Equipment
DVDSONY BLU RAY BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplaySamsung LA55A950D1F : 55 inch LCD HD. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-DS777
SpeakersVAF DC-X fronts; VAF DC-6 center; VAF DC-2 rears; LFE-07subwoofer (80W X 2)

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