Joe Friar is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. He co-founded the Victoria Film Society and reviews films for Hit Radio 104.7 and the Victoria Advocate."

Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins (2019)

A scene from the documentary “Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins.”

Review

Molly Ivins started her journalism career as an intern at the Houston Chronicle before going on to write for The New York Times, Texas Observer and Dallas Times Herald. Her sardonic wit led to a couple of Pulitzer Prize nominations and a syndicated column carried in more than 400 newspapers.

Before passing away in 2007 from cancer, Ivins became known for her political commentary and great storytelling. She wasn’t afraid to call out politicians George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Dan Quayle, Pat Buchanan and Newt Gingrich while advocating for the rights of the underdog.

She was a Texas hellraiser who gets her due in a new documentary from award-winning filmmaker Janice Engel.

In Texas, we produce strong, independent women who don’t mind sharing their political views.

Take for example Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, the first female governor of Texas, who served two nonconsecutive terms in 1925 and 1933.

Then there’s Governor Ann Richards, who delivered that fiery speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, and Barbara Jordan, who was raised in Houston’s fifth ward and went on to become a Texas Senator and member of the United States House of Representatives.

Trailblazers outside the political circle include labor rights activist Emma Tenayuca, Texas cattle queen Lizzie Johnson and, of course, political commentator Ivins.

In one of the many archived clips from appearances on David Letterman and C-Span, Ivins had this to say about politicians, “I believe that it’s fair game when these guys stand up and say something foolish to let it all out there and let people take a good look at what they elected.”

According to MSNBC commentator and television host Rachel Maddow, “The people who Molly took apart were the right people to aim at, and they knew it. People who had power and misused it. Those are the people who she aimed at.”

Maddow is joined by Dan Rather and a host of notable Texans, friends and family who share their memories of Ivins, who was born in California but raised in Houston. She embraced the Texas lifestyle but, at the same time, despised its patriarchal good ol’ boy mentality.

Ivins once described the Lone Star State as “a mosaic of cultures that overlap and form layers, with the darker layers on the bottom. The cultures are Black, Chicano, Southern, Freak, Suburban and the dominant Sh-t kicker.”

Ivins was a liberal, but she didn’t play favorites. She would call out Democrats as well as Republicans and anyone else who threatened the Bill of Rights, which she felt was in peril.

Ivins sparred often with the late Ann Richards and became an expert on George W. Bush after covering his career for many years while governor of Texas and then as 43rd President of the United States.

She wrote two books about W (“Bushwhacked,” “Shrub”) which went on to become best-sellers. Even though Bush was a frequent target of her criticism, he released a statement after her death that read, “I respected her convictions, her passionate belief in the power of words. She fought her illness with that same passion. Her quick wit and commitment will be missed.”

The 91-minute documentary is fast-paced, covering Ivins’ childhood growing up in the affluent River Oaks neighborhood where she grew to six feet by the age of 12. Her father, a Houston oil and gas executive, would come home and start drinking heavily. He clashed with his daughter over politics and her “radical” viewpoints, and in one interview Ivins confirms that they butted heads, like most southern liberals, over race.

Dan Rather, a Texan, remarks, “We all grew up in a state with institutionalized racism.” Jim Hightower and friends of Ivins recount how they all went to segregated high schools.

Ivins recalls how she realized that grownups would lie to their kids to promote racism.

Being a civil rights activist in the South during Ivins’ formative years was frightening. Ivins’ siblings remember how their father blew up when Molly invited a black friend over to go swimming. He was mad because he could control everyone at a huge oil and gas company, but he couldn’t control his daughter.

The documentary fast-tracks through Ivins’ career from a stint at the Minneapolis Tribune, where she covered the civil rights movement, to her return to Texas as co-editor of the Texas Observer in Austin. She was wooed away by The New York Times but eventually came back home to Texas after the Dallas Times Herald gave her total freedom to write a column about whatever she wanted.

Ivins drove a pickup, drank beer, wore boots, cussed, went hunting and considered herself a liberal. In her best southern twang, she would respond, “So what? to anyone who objected to the L term.

It’s evident today the world needs more Texans like Ivins. I’m sure if she was still alive, she’d be having a field day with the current political climate.

“Raise Hell: The Life And Times of Molly Ivins” proves the best form of medicine is laughter. You need a sense of humor to get through all the injustices in this world and at the same time never give up the fight.

Joe Friar is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (Los Angeles) and the Houston Film Critics Society. He co-founded the Victoria Film Society and reviews films for Hit Radio 104.7 and the Victoria Advocate.

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