Review: Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins

If you don’t know who Molly Ivins was, you’ll be a fan by the end of this doc. If you do remember her, you’ll fall back in love. And after watching it, everyone will wish there were a journalist of her intellect and humor around today to take on the political class in America and abroad. Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins is a pretty straightforward telling of her life and times. But what times they were. She tackled some of the big stories from the late 60s to the era of W (she coined that moniker) with such a keen eye for people and their motivations, and she pulled no punches. The film is by no means the definitive story of her very full though cut short life, but it is a hell of a lot of fun to be with her for its 93 minutes.

Ivins was first and foremost a Texan. It was a badge of pride for her, and she put the insanity of Texas politics under her microscope throughout her career, ridiculing their politicians within an inch of their lives. And while she was a liberal, she was equally vicious with national political leaders on both sides of the aisle if she disagreed. But underneath the hilarious takedowns were truths about the abysmal state of politics in Texas and America. She famously said of Pat Buchanan’s 1992 Republican National Convention speech that it “probably sounded better in the original German.”

After graduating from Columbia School of Journalism, Ivins began her career in Minneapolis breaking barriers by being the first woman police reporter. But she returned to Texas and a co-editor job at the Texas Observer where she began building her reputation as savvy journalist with a caustic wit. The New York Times came calling for her after she’d become a nationally recognized voice, writing op-eds and features in a number of national papers. But she turned out to be too colorful for them and they sent her to the hinterlands, making her the Rocky Mountain bureau chief. She returned to Texas when the Dallas Times Herald gave her carte blanche to write whatever she wanted. Later her work was syndicated all over the country giving her an enormous audience. She was a favorite on the speaking circuit and she was nominated for a couple of Pulitzers. She died in 2007 at the age of 62 from breast cancer.

The filmmakers were most likely blessed with an embarrassment of riches when it came to film clips of Ivins. So much of the doc is in her words as she speaks from a lectern or a chair in front of an audience. The talking heads are mostly her colleagues and friends and they fill in blanks. But the reason to see the film is to listen to Ivins talk about the political world as only she could, with sharp intelligence wrapped in biting humor. You can only imagine what she might have done with the current political climate. Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins is a very well done film that won’t be any less good on the small screen, but you should see it.

[Mainstream Chick’s take: I also loved this documentary, which won the Audience Award at the SXSW Film Festival and screened to a packed house on closing night at AFIDOCS in DC. The timing and location (just a few blocks from the White House) added to its resonance – in a big Texas way! Molly would have had a field day with the state – and people – of politics today. The documentary speaks to the need to stand up to threats against the First Amendment and be bold in today’s political climate. Most of all, however, it helps preserve the legacy of a true maverick in journalism who spoke truth to power in a way that both informed and entertained. She was a hoot. -hb]

 

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