Molly Ivins once said, “The best way to get the sons of bitches is to make people laugh at them.” Audiences who see “Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins” will have plenty of chances to do just that.
Acclaimed journalist Molly Ivins epitomized the classic image of a hard drinking writer pounding away at a typewriter, cigarette dangling out of the corner of her mouth, speaking truth to power, and blazing a trail with little time to suffer fools. Known for her acid-laced quips and unfailing ability to reduce the powerful to tears, Ivins was a unique force in American media. But, she was much more than that, as director and co-writer Janice Engel reveals in her 2019 documentary on Ivins now available to watch on Hulu.
Crisply edited to match her subject’s wit by Monique Zavistovski, the film delves into the Texas native’s upbringing as a girl who just seemed to keep growing as she became a teen. At six-feet tall and described in the film as “big boned,” Ivins was an imposing figure as she broadened her horizons beyond the Lone Star State with schooling in France and Smith College in the United States before taking on journalism and cementing herself as a legend.
Much of that status was rooted in her ability to cut to the chase when it came to politics, especially that of her home state.
"The legislature was fairly corrupt in those days," she said to National Public Radio in 2006. "And the fact that it was, and that everybody knew it, and that people laughed about it, struck me as worth reporting. And I thought: Why not put it in the way it is?"
And, she did, honestly, and devoid of the fear that plagues neophyte writers when confronted by so-called important people. "I think the meanest thing I ever said about one of them was that he ran on all fours, sucked eggs and had no sense of humor," she says in the film. "And I swear I saw him in the Capitol the next day and all he said was, 'Baby, you put my name in your paper!’”
In those days, politicians and journalists knew the playing field and knew the rules for how the game was played. That was before the ugliness of a harsher time when the media was accused of being the “enemy of the people” and purveyors of “fake news.” It would be a distressing exercise to imagine what Ivins might think of a world torn apart by disease and inept political leadership. But, Ivins died of cancer in 2007 and so was spared.
But, she does offer a hint of what might be called a manifesto of sorts in which she lays bare the fantasy of objectivity in journalism. She says, “First of all, there's no such thing as objectivity. Everybody in journalism knows it and I think we hoist ourselves on our own petard constantly by pretending we're objective, when there is no such thing. How you see the world depends on where you stand and who you are, there's nothing any of us can do about that. So my solution has been to let my readers know where I stand, and they can take that with a grain of salt or a pound of salt, depending on their preferences.”
Ivins was not a paragon of virtue. She often drank too much and friends in the film recount how there were many times she embarrassed herself at social occasions. It got so bad that finally a group of family and colleagues held an intervention in 2006. Then, later that year, she found that the cancer she thought had been beaten once before was back and would not be defeated this time.
The film, though, is roll-in-the-aisles funny and cuts to the quick as Ivins skewers Texas politicians and those in Washington, D.C. and it makes one wish someone with this much courage and thick skin was around to hammer home the one thing needed now more than ever: Truth and honesty.
"OK, here's the real reason I'm optimistic about politics in this country: It's because I watched the civil rights movement," she says in the film. "I grew up in the South before the civil rights movement. I know how much things can change and how fast things can change and how much difference government action can mean in the lives of people in this country.
If only she knew.
“Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins” is not rated but does contain language, mature content and some newsreel depictions of violence.
Tempo grade: A
EDITOR’S NOTE: With the Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres and the Taos Community Auditorium Movies on the Big Screen series closed for the time being in response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, we will focus on reviews for movies available online.