Tuesday, December 2, 2014

SHE'S BEAUTIFUL WHEN SHE'S ANGRY: Mary Dore's time-capsule look at the rise of feminism

For those of us who lived through the 1960s, the new documentary SHE'S BEAUTIFUL WHEN SHE'S ANGRY, which tracks the early stirrings of what we now call the Feminist Movement -- along with its history, motives and disagreements-among-members -- will be a special treat. For younger viewers, who might wonder where it all came from, here's your chance to disco-ver. Full of splendid archival photos of many of the gals who propel-led it, the movie allows us to see and hear some of the survivors as they now look back nearly a half century.

The filmmaker is Mary Dore, who thirty years ago co-wrote and -directed the terrific documentary, The Good Fight: The Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. This is quite a different subject, but Dore handles it every bit as well, with enthusiasm and smarts. She's unafraid to tackle certain subjects that usually remain just off limits for mainstream audiences -- such as where lesbianism fit into the early feminist movement (listening to Rita Mae Brown talk about those days is both bracing and funny), as well as why and how women of color entered the fight. (The "Black Sisters Unite" movement had, as its first job, to fight black men.)

Many of the archival photos, above and below, are delights to view, but the meat of the movie resides in its narration and talking heads. It's still shocking (but funny) to see and hear the main objections to the movement, which came, of course, from us men, even men who were supposedly on the forefront of progressive change. (Just listen to Ellen Willis talk about her experience trying to make a speech at a rally at which the men's reactions were, well, piggish.)

We see bra burnings as a reaction to the crowning of Miss America, as well as the unfurling of a Women's Lib banner --- which doubled as the first time Americans got to see these words in the news. And finally, we're made aware of how the right to abortion became the movement's fundamental issue. Which it still is.

Remember Our Bodies, Ourselves?  We discover the origins of that now classic book. And when it comes to pushing necessary causes, we have the women's movement to thank for raising our consciousness regarding everything from women's health issues to sexual harassment and domestic violence.

Ms Dore generally sticks to great archival photos and talking heads (then and now), rather than re-enactments. Which makes the single one I noticed here -- a misogynist incident involving two women and a van -- stick out like a sore thumb. Why suddenly show us that, I wondered?

Still, what we learn from this movie far outweighs any minor flaws. How the Chicago abortion service, simply named "Jane," assisted in helping woman with over 11,000 illegal abortions between the years of 1967 and 1973; how the Child Care bill passed both Congressional Houses only to be vetoed by President Nixon (we still don't have that bill); birth control pills and their side effects, as well as the Congressional hearings on this subject that included all men and not a single woman; the incredible-but-true Puerto Rican Sterilization Program. Yikes, what a history!

The film pretty much concludes on a high note: the successful Women's March and Strike of 1970. All this and more is shown here, along with many of the leaders of the movement you'll know, and many more you probably do not -- all of whom are worth hearing. As one of these women sadly tells us: "The bitter lesson is that no victories are permanent." Yet, as Susan Brownmiller reminds us, "Change happens because radicals force it. But our country doesn't like to admit this." Amen.

From International Film Circuit and running 92 minutes, She's Beautiful When She's Angry -- a wonderful title that works both as truth and as an ironic "take" on the old male gaze phrase -- opens this Friday, December 5, in New York City at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema, and a week later, November 12, in Los Angeles at the the Landmark NuArt.

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