Documentary explores Texas through lens and voice of Molly Ivins
If you drive the endless highways of the Lone Star State, you may see bumper stickers that read, “Texas isn’t just a state, it’s a state of mind”.
As the only state in the U.S. that was once its own country, the “Republic of Texas” mindset still prevails among many who see its independence as essential to its way of life. After spending many years in Texas — and with my wife and two of my three sons born there — I experience that Texan pride every day.
The new documentary, “Raise Hell: the Life and Times of Molly Ivins,” looks at the Lone Star State through the eyes and words of one of its most famous observers, a popular writer who perfectly captured the essence of the place and the people for more than 40 years at a keyboard. Molly Ivins was more than an observer of how Texans think; with her columns for a range of publications she effortlessly dissected the mindset of people who think big, act big and expect big things of each other. And she did it all with a wry sense of humor that made us want to savor every word.
Like the best of documentary films, “Raise Hell” effectively paints the background before detailing Ivins’ life and career. Filmmaker Janice Engel introduces the affluence of River Oaks, the upscale Houston neighborhood where Ivins was raised, to frame the origins of the writer’s point of view. From the start, we see the potential for conflict between the entitlement that fills Ivins’ neighborhood and her own obligation to speak for those who need to be heard. As Ivins travels from Houston to Smith College to Minneapolis for an early newspaper job, she continues to search for the authenticity that will give her voice its reason and clarity.
Telling this entertaining, thought-provoking story is Ivins herself in a series of well-edited clips that, together, form a self-narration that makes the film feel like a visual autobiography. With compelling candor, Ivins reveals — in various speeches and interviews the clips document — the mind of an investigator, the soul of a philosopher and the humor of a standup satirist, rarely letting the severity of her content dilute the entertainment of her observations. As her career progresses, Ivins fine tunes her observations of politicians in her home state to a pitch-perfect view of how Texans view the world. Peppering how she sees herself, and her words, are commentaries from such luminaries as the late Ann Richards and veteran journalist Dan Rather.
While the film covers much of what we may know about Ivins, and her writing, it reveals more about what she faced behind the pages. We travel with the writer as she battles the temptations of alcohol, the ravages of cancer, and the sadness of failed relationships. Thoughtful, loving observations from her brother, sister and close friends reveal a softer side to words that, in print, could sound quite harsh. Ultimately the film paints a full picture of a woman who so loves the state she calls home that she feels obligated to reveal all its layers.
Yes, Texans will tell you, this state is a state of mind. And Molly Ivins, in all her words, helps us understand why.
Film Nutritional Value: "Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins"
Content: High. With content as rich and entertaining as a documentary can offer, “Raise Hell” captures the magic of the words of writer Molly Ivins.
Entertainment: High. Despite the details in this history lesson, the creative filmmaking of Janice Engel makes this an entertaining journey to a state of mind called Texas.
Message: High. With its layered examination of how one woman views her world, the film teaches us how much it matters to look beyond any surface.
Relevance: High. At a time when our nation finds it difficult to agree about anything, remembering the follies that people initiate can be quite enlightening.
Opportunity for Dialogue: High. After you share this film with your older children, talk about how its lessons impact what we see in our country today.
“Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins” runs 1 hour, 33 minutes. It is not rated.