February 11, 2020  (Web Review)

Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins

(2019) 93 min. DVD: $26.99. Magnolia Home Entertainment (avail. from most distributors). Closed captioned.

Reviewer rating: 4.0/4

Molly Ivins (1944-2007) did not fit the traditional image of a liberal. In archival footage, the six-foot tall, razor-tongued Texas political reporter says “I drive a pickup truck. I drink beer. I cuss. I hunt.” Ivins’s targets could be on both sides of the aisle (she advised Nancy Pelosi to take speech lessons to temper the shrill voice, and said of Dan Quayle, “if you put that man’s brain in a bumblebee, it would fly backwards”), but she was most decidedly critical of Republicans, especially the Texas state legislature and a certain Texas governor who became president (who Ivins called “Shrub”). Filmmaker Janice Engel’s richly entertaining and immensely timely tribute to Ivins benefits from generous archival footage of Ivins while interweaving the story of her life and career. Educated at Smith College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Ivins earned attention for her work in the early 1970s at The Texas Observer, where she showed up for her interview toting a six-pack of beer, accompanied by her dog named “Shit.” Later that decade, she worked for the New York Times (leaving after editor Abe Rosenthal took exception to her description of a community chicken slaughter as a “gang-pluck”). In 1982, Ivins joined the Dallas Times-Herald, where she was given free rein and quickly built a reputation as a sharp, funny, and sometimes even mean observer of the Texas political scene (Ivins did not suffer fools, gladly or otherwise). After the paper shut down in 1991, she was snapped up by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Her syndicated column ran in hundreds of newspapers and became the basis for a few bestselling books, including 1999’s You Got to Dance with Them What Brung You—a pointed reference to what Ivins saw as the main operating principal of Texas (and later, national) politics: widespread corruption. Interspersed throughout are interviews with family members, friends, author Anne Lamott, and reporters Dan Rather and Rachel Maddow, who sing Ivins praises while some also note her lonely life and self-destructive smoking and alcoholism—which continued after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. What comes through loud and clear here is Ivins’s extraordinary wit and dead-on insight into America’s singular promise and the very real threats to democracy. “We’re the ones that run the country…they’re just the people we have hired to drive the bus for a while,” she once noted. Her voice is sorely missed today. Also including an excellent bonus feature with additional clips of Ivins, this is highly recommended. Editor’s Choice. Aud: C, P. (R. Pitman)