By Glenn Heath Jr.
The only thing Molly Ivins enjoyed more than drinking beer was calling out hypocritical politicians. The Dallas Times Herald journalist and lifelong Texan wrote a notoriously pithy weekly column that would eventually become syndicated by hundreds of newspapers during the 1990s and early 2000s.
“Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins” celebrates its trailblazing subject warts and all, interviewing friends, family and colleagues to get at the heart of what made her such a force. Like most portrait documentaries, the film employs a classic linear trajectory that begins with the childhood years before advancing forward.
Director Janice Engel energizes these conventions by injecting a quickened pace, cutting between talking heads segments, archival clips, and personal correspondence with the speed of an Ivins quip. This approach always keeps things lively.
While championing of free speech and civil rights, Ivins focused her ire on the predominantly white men of the Texas State Legislature. She challenged their machismo and boys club entitlement through scathing humorous wit.
But not all newspaper publications were fond of the writer’s comically sardonic voice. Ivins spent some tumultuous years at the New York Times during the 1970s, but Engel depicts these frustrating times with just as much vim and vigor as the career highpoints that would come later.
“Raise Hell” doesn’t imbue the same raw power and intimacy as “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am”, a more experimental approach to exploring the influences and tactics of another revolutionary 20th century wordsmith.
Nevertheless, it’s a fleet footed and loving introduction to the work of a gunslinger scribe. Ivins was especially prescient on a number of troubling political trends, writing frequently about the moral and ethical contradictions that would eventually bring America to its current nightmarish moment.