New film undoes Joan Rivers' cosmetic makeover

Tue Jun 8, 2010 1:35pm EDT
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By Bob Tourtellotte

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - If cosmetic makeovers mask our most unsavory features, then a new documentary has stripped away the many changes Joan Rivers has made to herself over the years and laid bare the comedian at age 77.

"Joan Rivers - A Piece of Work" reaches movie theaters in major U.S. cities on Friday, and with it comes an unflinching look at the woman who rose through male-dominated comedy clubs in the 1960s to become a regular on U.S. television.

She famously saw her personal and financial life spiral downward after the suicide of her husband and manager, Edgar Rosenberg, in 1987. But Rivers regained her career footing as a commentator of Hollywood red carpet fashion and, perhaps with the aid of cosmetic surgery, found herself a rejuvenated star.

Rivers told Reuters that with the documentary, she wanted to "show age and how age can be a barrier to people" and said the biggest misconception about her is that she is all about the "Golden Past" when her current act "is sharper than ever."

"I also thought it might be a good time to show a slice of my life because I hadn't done an autobiography in 15 years, and this was sort of a lazy person's way of doing it," she joked.

But "A Piece of Work" is no joke. It was made by documentary filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, whose past credits include a tale of the Darfur genocide, "The Devil Came on Horseback," and the story of a man wrongly convicted of rape and murder, "The Trials of Darryl Hunt."

In Rivers' life, they saw a universal tale of an underdog who finds huge success, tumbles from lofty heights and rebounds by reinvention. For her part, Rivers saw a pair of storytellers who would dig into psyche and show it -- warts and all.

"I loved them because they weren't going to do a puff piece," Rivers said. "There have been a few documentaries out there lately, and you knew nothing of the people at the end. So why do them? That was exactly what I didn't want," she said.   Continued...

<p>Comedian Joan Rivers at the Kennedy Center in Washington November 10, 2008. REUTERS/Molly Riley</p>