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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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