by Steve Desroches
In 1993 the state of Texas enacted legislation outlawing sodomy. When the bill passed, the two male legislators responsible for the bill shook hands to congratulate one another. The great liberal journalist Molly Ivins was there and wrote in her column that upon seeing the handshake “…the Speaker had to send the sergeant-at-arms over to reprimand them both, because under the new law, ‘it’s illegal for a prick to touch an asshole in the state.’” No one could drive home a point or make such colorful observations like Molly Ivins. One of the great tragedies of our times is that she is not here to write about the Trump presidency.
With incredible insight and unmatched wit, Molly Ivins became a giant of journalism and liberal politics over the span of her career, with a wildly popular syndicated column as well as for her reporting in the New York Times, the Minneapolis Tribune as their first female police reporter, and most famously her political reporting for The Texas Observer. Wherever she went she left a big impression. The new documentary film Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins by Janice Engel marvelously preserves and presents this giant of thought and letters at exactly the right time in our culture, in part because much of her writing has proven to be prophetic.
The daughter of a wealthy, elite family, she grew up in the tony River Oaks neighborhood of Houston and then went on to graduate from Smith College and then the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. Despite her country-club pedigree, throughout her life she was every bit a Texas honky tonk woman; hard drinking, cigarette puffing, with a mouth that could make a longshoreman blush and a dog named Shit. She proved that everything is indeed bigger in Texas, and not just because she was six feet tall, but rather because when Ivins spoke, people listened. Some quaked. Others seethed. Most laughed. But above all else she made people think.
Journalists are supposed to report the news, not make it. But Ivins couldn’t help but become a superstar with her larger than life personality and spectacular writing, which put her in the same historical school of words as Will Rogers and Mark Twain. Her ability to use humor, and to eschew the idea that a journalist couldn’t express bias or a point of view, made her a must-read political writer, one of the rare superstars of the genre. Raise Hell shows a complete picture of Ivins, beer-soaked warts and all. Dying of cancer in 2007 at the age of 62, it’s testament to her work that she still registers on the Richter scale of political discourse all these years later. Raise Hell is a thrilling joy ride through Ivins’ wild life and an important tool in preserving this woman’s legacy for generations to come.
Raise Hell: The Life & Times of Molly Ivins screens at Waters Edge Cinema, Whaler’s Wharf, 237 Commercial St., 2nd fl. Thursday, October 17 and Friday, October 18, 1:30 p.m. Tickets ($9) are available at the box office and online at provincetownfilm.org. For more information call 508.487.3456.