Volume 80, Number 3 | June 16 - 22, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Koch on Film

By Ed Koch

“Joan Rivers:  A Piece of Work” (+)
This documentary, made with Joan Rivers’ cooperation, is excellent.  In addition to comedy scenes from acts that she has performed over the years (which are very funny), it contains insightful and reflective monologues during which she reveals much of her true self.

One comment that she makes about her New York City apartment is hilarious.  She states that it is decorated the way Marie Antoinette would have done it had she been rich.  That is certainly true.  I was once invited to her apartment for dinner and it was stunning.  Joan was a wonderful host concerned about the comfort of each of her guests.  I sat to her immediate left and to my left was Peggy Noonan.  When Joan asked if we knew one another, Peggy responded we did and that she didn’t think I liked her since she gave my then new book a negative review.  Peggy was right, but enough about me.

Joan is now 77 years old.  When she began her career back in the days of Jack Parr, Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson, her coarse humor and use of a drunken sailor’s profanity were shocking.  Although her sense of humor continued to be Borscht Belt, that tie soon gave way to even greater potty and sexual references.  For me, and I believe most of the public, her energy, intellect and comedic crudeness is now attractive and extraordinary.

Ms. Rivers has led the way for a new generation of female comedians, the funniest in my opinion now being Wanda Sykes, who is a combination of Mort Sahl and Joan Rivers.  Her sense of humor is political in nature rather than being sex-driven, and she is terrific in acting out her jokes.  Without Rivers’ rule-breaking career, I doubt that Sykes would be as successful as she is today with her appearances on HBO and Fox TV.  We owe Joan Rivers a great debt of thanks for having expanded the range of what is acceptable from female comedians.

I saw the film at the City Cinemas 1, 2 and 3 on Third Avenue and 60th Street.

Henry Stern said:  “I didn’t know too much about Joan Rivers, except that she was a comedian who was often the butt of jokes about her plastic surgery.  It is a shame that people believe they must undergo operations to avoid looking old.  The movie was both funny and sad.  Joan Rivers is a driven person, a workaholic, who dominates her entourage.  Yet she is vulnerable and dependent on the approval of audiences and booking agents.  I enjoyed the movie, and I liked her and her daughter as people.  Being rich and famous doesn’t mean that you’re not lonely or needy.  She is a gifted and successful performer; I hope that brings her peace of mind.” 

1 hour, 24 minutes. Rated R (documentary). Currently screening at, among other places, the IFC Center (323 Avenue of the Americas). For info., call 212-924-7771.

“Mademoiselle Chambon” (+)
A marvelous film not to be missed.

The simple story involves three main characters:  a builder, Jean (Vincent Lindon), his wife, Anne Marie (Aure Atika), and their son’s grammar school teacher, Veronique (Sandrine Kiberlain).  Jean, Anne Marie and their son, Jeremy (Arthur Le Houerou), would be described as part of the French bourgeoisie.  Veronique, bourgeoisie also, appears to be in her mid-30s and on her way to becoming an “old maid.”

Jean visits his son’s school to meet with Veronique — who is good-looking, but not a classically beautiful woman.  The two are immediately attracted to one another.  She asks him to look at the windows in her apartment that are falling apart, and when he goes to her home the romance, in a very demure way, begins.

Jean’s father is about to celebrate his 80th birthday.  His love for his father is evidenced by his weekly bathing of his father’s feet.  It reminded me of my visits with my father to my grandmother’s Old Law tenement apartment on the Lower East Side.  He would bathe her as she sat in her shift in the bathtub, which was in the kitchen.  The bathroom was located in the public hallway.  There was an umbrella installed overhead to keep off the rain.  I looked forward to those weekly visits, because my grandmother always made grebenes for me (rendered chicken fat) which in my memory is still better than Godiva chocolate, although more dangerous to one’s health.

My father’s bathing of his elderly mother was not a chore.  It was a labor of love, as was Jean’s washing of his father’s feet.

Even though Jean and Veronique spend little time together, their relationship takes a toll on both of them as it does on Jean’s wife — who knows something is wrong.

The film is very placid in pace and seems to run in real time.  There is no speeding up of the relationship between Jean and Veronique, and there is only a single intimate scene which is very low-key but carnal.  “Mademoiselle Chambon” is just about as perfect as a film can be.  In some fashion it reminded me of the 1945 British film, “Brief Encounter,” in terms of being just as understated and enormously affecting.

I saw the movie at the Cinema Village on a Saturday evening, and was very surprised that the theater was half empty.  There should have been a long line of people waiting to see it.

1 hour, 41 minutes. Not rated (comedy/drama). (In French, with English subtitles). Currently playing at Cinema Village (22 East 12th St.). For info., call 212-924-3363.

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