Truth and Movies

Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins

Review by Leila Latif @Leila_Latif

Directed by

Janice Engel

Starring

Ben Barnes Pat Buchanan Paul Begala

Anticipation.

Who is Molly Ivins?

Enjoyment.

Molly Ivins is fucking hilarious.

In Retrospect.

What the world needs now is Molly Ivins.

A roistering doc profile of the late, liberal tub-thumper who worked at The New York Times.

It’s a testimony to how unspeakably racist, sexist, incompetent and morally repugnant the Trump administration is that even the most liberal among us look back on George W Bush’s administration as the good ’ol days. And this documentary, a cradle-to-grave look at the life of celebrated American journalist Molly Ivins, is a cheering antidote to the truly depressing state of America.

You don’t have to have ever heard of Molly Ivins to take great joy in Janice Engel’s Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins. This fish-out-of-water story of the liberal Texan speaks to universal themes of morality, feminity, integrity and courage, and only a superficial understanding of American politics and social injustice is required.

Ivins was a six-foot force of nature, born into a wealthy conservative family in East Texas where she could have not blended in even if she had had the slightest desire to do so. As she put it, “Texas is like everywhere else only more so,” and being a liberal chiefly concerned with racial equality and the redistribution of wealth was considered by many as akin to being a child molester.

The documentary follows Molly, largely via footage of her and interviews with those closest to her, as she battles her way through waspy universities, conservative newspapers and the “death by a thousand paper cuts” that was her stint at The New York Times.

There is so much that is extraordinary about Ivins’ story, but much that is relatable too. She, as many women are, is recruited for her remarkable and distinctive voice, only for those in power to set about to stifle it. Some of the funniest moments involve her recounting how her editors would change her words: “A fella who had a beer gut that belonged in the Smithsonian,” became, “A man with a protuberant abdomen.” As well: “He squawked like a two-dollar fiddle,” to, “He sounded like an inexpensive musical instrument.”

Just how funny Ivins is cannot be understated, and the documentary has dozens of laugh out loud moments, several of which simply involve her describing Newt Gingrich. But within the laughs are moments of prophetic poignancy. In 2002, at the height of Bush’s powers, she was able to see to the core of his plans and predict the imminent disaster of the occupation of Iraq. In 2004 she talks about the rise of populism with uncanny foreshadowing of the rise of “Anti-intellectualism, religiosity (not belief but the public display of belief) and machismo.”

Part of the documentary’s strength is seeing Ivins as a three-dimensional human with flaws and hypocrisies left intact. Her self-deprecating humour prevails, even when on uncomfortable subjects such as her career failures, and she airs regrets over not having children and her dependency on alcohol.

Her untimely death at the age of 62 seems particularly cruel given how much she would have delighted in the 2008 election of Barack Obama. Crueller still is that we cannot hear her acerbic wit take on the Trump administration – but maybe it’s a small mercy she was spared its abject idiocy.

Published 23 Oct 2020

Tags: Janice Engel Molly Ivins

Anticipation.

Who is Molly Ivins?

Enjoyment.

Molly Ivins is fucking hilarious.

In Retrospect.

What the world needs now is Molly Ivins.

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