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Saturday, September 28th, 2019

Documentary Review: “Raise Hell” is a fun and inspiring portrait of journalist Molly Ivins

I wish Mol­ly Ivins was still alive so that we could hear the full force of her wicked wit being unleashed upon Don­ald Trump and his min­ions.

Ivins, a renowned jour­nal­ist with a career span­ning from the late 1960s to her death of can­cer in 2007, is the sub­ject of the new film “Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Mol­ly Ivins.” At the height of her career, her col­umn was syn­di­cat­ed at 400 news­pa­pers across the coun­try. She was also the author of mul­ti­ple best-sell­ing books and a three-time final­ist for the Pulitzer Prize.

The Life and Times of Molly Ivins

Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Mol­ly Ivins
Release Year: 2019
Direc­tors: Jan­ice Engel
Run­ning Time: 1 hour, 33 min­utes
Watch trail­er

And she was riotous­ly fun­ny.

She tar­get­ed her wit at those who most deserved to be crit­i­cized, those with a lot of pow­er and per­haps not a lot of sense or com­pas­sion.

“She aimed at the right peo­ple,” says MSNBC’s Rachel Mad­dow in the film.

While she was most well-known for her com­men­tary on Repub­li­can politi­cians, espe­cial­ly George W. Bush, whom she often said she “acci­den­tal­ly became an author­i­ty” on, she also did­n’t hes­i­tate to call out Democ­rats when they did­n’t live up to her pop­ulist, pro­gres­sive val­ues.

For exam­ple, she (and many oth­er pro­gres­sives) dis­agreed with Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton’s leg­is­la­tion cut­ting assis­tance for needy fam­i­lies. She was so upset, she did­n’t vote in the 1996 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, refus­ing to vote for Clin­ton, and of course would not vote for the Repub­li­can can­di­date, Sen­a­tor Bob Dole.

Ivins shrewd­ly observed that the polit­i­cal spec­trum in the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca runs not from left to right, but from top to bot­tom.

Indeed, the title of one of her eleven books was “You Got to Dance With Them What Brung You,” refer­ring to politi­cians being behold­en to their big-mon­ey donors. She argued that there was a need to “fix the sys­tem so that there’s no one for leg­is­la­tors to dance with but us, because we’re the ones that brung ’em.”

She was some­what prophet­ic in this sense, see­ing how things were and rec­og­niz­ing the need to address it.

Instead, things have got­ten even worse since the time of her state­ments, with the Supreme Court’s deci­sion in the Cit­i­zens Cor­po­ra­tions Unit­ed case open­ing up the doors to even more mon­ey in pol­i­tics than there was before.

Dan Rather, respect­ed CBS broad­cast jour­nal­ist, points out in the film that “Ivins threat­ened the nar­ra­tive” that politi­cians want­ed.

Rather also dis­cuss­es Ivins’ lega­cy. “How many leg­endary print jour­nal­ists are there?” he notes. “Mol­ly is on the top of that list.”

Ivins was born and raised in Texas, and spent part of her ear­ly career cov­er­ing the Texas state leg­is­la­ture in Austin, Texas.

“Texas has always been the nation­al lab­o­ra­to­ry for bad gov­ern­ment. I mean, if you want to see a bad idea tried, we’ve tried it,” she said. When George W. Bush was elect­ed, she knew that the themes of Texas pol­i­tics — “anti-intel­lec­tu­al­ism, reli­gios­i­ty, and machis­mo” — would become hall­marks of nation­al pol­i­tics. ’

Once again, she was unfor­tu­nate­ly cor­rect in her pre­dic­tions.

“Next time I tell you some­one from Texas should not be Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States, please pay atten­tion,” she wrote in a 2001 col­umn and repeat­ed in sub­se­quent speech­es.

After the ter­ror­ist attacks of Sep­tem­ber 11th, 2001, being a crit­ic of Bush became a more pre­car­i­ous propo­si­tion, but Ivins stuck to her ideals.

She was one of the first and most sus­tain­ing voic­es in the media to ques­tion the inva­sions of Iraq and Afghanistan. “Good thing we won the war, because the peace sure looks like a quag­mire,” she wrote in Octo­ber 2003.

Once again, her insights were prophet­ic.

Though Bush would mem­o­rably stand in front of a “Mis­sion Accom­plished” sign on an air­craft car­ri­er in May of that year, the occu­pa­tion of Afghanistan con­tin­ues. Mean­while, Unit­ed States troops went back to Iraq from 2014 to 2017 to fight the rise of the Islam­ic State group, after hav­ing first left the coun­try in 2011.

Ivins was a crit­i­cal voice for many years, one that has been great­ly missed, espe­cial­ly as many of the biggest media com­pa­nies and voic­es have been fail­ing in one of their crit­i­cal func­tions: to ques­tion and ana­lyze the infor­ma­tion they receive, not just repeat the mes­sages of can­di­dates and pub­lic offi­cials.

Ivins is no longer with us, but hope­ful­ly “Raise Hell” will inspire more peo­ple to become the type of jour­nal­ists that our soci­ety so des­per­ate­ly needs right now. I left the film rein­vig­o­rat­ed for the on-going fight against the Trump regime, but also thor­ough­ly enter­tained from Ivins’ humor and clever turns-of-phrase.

“Raise Hell” is cur­rent­ly show­ing at the SIFF Cin­e­ma Uptown in Seat­tle, and also at the Barn­yard Cin­e­ma in Winthrop, Wash­ing­ton.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, it is not cur­rent­ly screen­ing any­where in Ore­gon or Ida­ho.

As Ivins was a vocal First Amend­ment advo­cate, a por­tion of all tick­et pro­ceeds will go to the Amer­i­can Civ­il Lib­er­ties Union (ACLU).

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