Filmmaker Joan Kron, 89, Is The Freshest Face At BIFF
By Dan Shaw
It’s befitting that the octogenarian producer and director of the plastic-surgery documentary “Take My Nose . . . Please!” doesn’t look her age. “Do you think I’d have gotten funding for this film and be taken seriously on the film festival circuit if I looked like a hag?” says Joan Kron, 89, who got her first facelift when she was in her sixties and wrote about plastic surgery for Allure magazine for 25 years. The indomitable and irrepressible Kron will be leading panel discussions about her debut film after its pair of Berkshire International Film Festival screenings on June 3 in Great Barrington at 9:15 a.m. and in Pittsfield at 1:45 p.m.
The film’s title is a takeoff on the Borscht Belt comic Henny Youngman’s most famous line — “Take my wife . . . please” — which makes perfect sense. “The only people who are honest about plastic surgery are comediennes,” says Kron, whose film chronicles the impact of forthright stars like Fanny Brice, Phyllis Diller, Totie Fields and Joan Rivers. “I thought I was going to make a documentary only from movie and TV clips but that’s very expensive,” says Kron, whose film is studded with clips from those funny ladies as well as other cosmetic surgery advocates like Cher, Jane Fonda and Roseanne Barr. “But what I learned is that a documentary has to have a narrative.”
So Kron, who’s been a story-telling journalist for more than 40 years, went looking for a few good women who’d be willing to let her camera crew trail them as they visited doctors’ offices and discussed their dreams and fears of correcting self-diagnosed facial flaws that undermine their self-esteem. “It’s a philosophical dilemma to alter your appearance just because you can,” says improv performer Emily Askin of Pittsburgh who Kron brings to New York for a consultation with a world-renowned surgeon.
The breakout star of the film is the 55-year-old Broadway character actress Jackie Hoffman [right] who is, coincidentally, the breakout star of the FX series Feud: Bette and Joan in which she plays the Teutonic factotum Mamacita to Jessica Lange’s Joan Crawford. Kron pursued Hoffman after reading a Wall Street Journal article in which Hoffman said the “biggest regret of her life” was not having the nose job her mother offered when she was sixteen. And then Kron discovered that Hoffman had written a song called “Pulled, Tucked and Lifted” that she performs in her nightclub act. “I almost died when I heard it!” says Kron. “It was karma. Jackie was meant to be in my film.”
Like the comediennes in her film, Kron knows that timing is everything. Her unparalleled career reflects the zeitgeist of the past seven decades. After graduating from the Yale School of Drama, she made costumes for Howdy Doody, one of television’s first hit shows in the 1950s. As a restless wife of a Philadelphia physician in the 1960s, she organized groundbreaking Pop Art exhibits for Arts Council of the YM/YWHA of Philadelphia and collaborated on limited edition merchandise with Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Robert Indiana. In the 1970s, she wrote for New York magazine, bringing a sassy New Journalism approach to design writing and then became the lead reporter for the launch of The New York Times “Home” section. Her resume also includes stints as a fashion reporter for The Wall Street Journal, editing Avenue magazine during the heyday of “nouvelle society,” her decades as a contributing editor at Allure, and several books.
The pivot to filmmaking included auditing a class on documentaries at the School for Visual Arts where the lecturers included D.A. Pennebaker and a class on Final Cut Pro, so she’d understand the nuts and bolts of movie making. Kron set up an editing station at her home office in Manhattan where she sat side by side with the film’s Emmy- and Peabody-winning editor Nancy Novack.
More challenging than directing the film was producing it. “I raised every penny myself,” says Kron. The money to finish the picture came from selling the URL facelift.com, which she’d owned for many years, for a “substantial” sum. “It was a miracle,” she says.
Now, Kron is busy on the festival circuit. She debuted “Take My Nose . . . Please!” at the Miami International Film Festival in March, where she won the Knight Documentary Achievement Award that came with a $10,000 prize. She’s recently been to festivals in Newport Beach and San Luis Obispo, and after BIFF she’s heading to another in San Francisco. While Kron exploits her octogenarian status for publicity purposes, she abhors the notion that her film might be graded on a curve. “Don’t be so surprised that somebody my age can make a movie,” she says.