DVD Review: She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry

ShesBeautifulDVD1STUDIO: Music Box Films | DIRECTOR: Mary Dore
RELEASE DATE: 3/1/16 | PRICE: DVD $29.95
BONUSES: an hour of exclusive extras
SPECS: NR | 92 min. | Documentary | 1.78:1 widescreen | stereo

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio | Video | Overall

Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that a new documentary on 1960’s feminism is being released in the year 2016, an election year that features the first major female contender for the role of U.S. President, but it makes Mary Dore’s She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry that much more essential viewing. Essential because it captures the spirit–and provides the context–for a movement that altered American life irrevocably, creating a “new normal” most of us take for granted today.

beautifulwhenangry_optTold in the straightforward manner most associated with Ken Burns’ PBS epic docs, the film bounces from topic to topic fluidly, covering all the bases you would expect: the suffragette and civil rights movements that provided templates for dissent, the worldwide phenomenon that was Our Bodies, Ourselves, the splinter movements of gay rights, fighting rape culture, defending abortion, raising the glass ceiling… it’s all in there. I’m not enough of an expert to praise or criticize the inclusion or exclusion of all the key players in these stories, but the filmmakers clearly did their homework and interviewed a lot of intelligent women. The result is a brief but convincing overview that is both academically useful and entertaining enough to captivate anyone curious about our country’s recent past. The interviews are vibrant, the interviewees passionate, and the archival footage rich–in short, She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry is about as good an archive of this history as you’re going to find in a feature doc.

Some historical details will surprise and shock you, such as the racially-motivated sterilization program our country piloted in Puerto Rico, leaving one-third of women there unable to reproduce. Stories like that abound in She’s Beautiful… If there’s any complaint to be had, it’s that the short running time barely begins to address the why’s, how’s, and consequences of this amazing movement. Of course, one can hardly fault the filmmakers for achieving what they did with limited resources (this was a Kickstarter-funded project, after all) but it definitely makes a strong case for an eight-part documentary series as necessity. A strong case for that argument can be found in the extra hour of DVD bonus segments that didn’t make the final cut–interviews that add a lot of essential patches to this colorful feminist quilt. Most of these are in the form of short, personal stories told by less-famous (but still important) figures like underground cartoonist Trina Robbins and feminist poet Alta, all of which makes the supplementary material as historically valuable as the main feature.

Bringing it back to the present, She’s Beautiful… inadvertently explains the gulf between baby-boomer feminists and today’s generation of young women who lack the emotional baggage of their predecessors: the battles fought by the baby-boomers were so many, and their frustration so deep, it completely explains why Gloria Steinem would support a Hillary over a Bernie–for her, this election is personal. The irony She’s Beautiful… brings out so well is that the revolutionary spirit and rhetoric used in the 60’s feminist movement is virtually identical to that of Sanders’, bringing the question “what constitutes a feminist?” front and center. If She’s Beautiful teaches us anything, it’s that not only do revolutions happen, but they actually succeed in ways their leaders could never have imagined.

Buy or Rent She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry
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About Memo

Memo Salazar attempts many things and accomplishes few. His big three are making films, music, and comics, but he'll throw photography, graphic design and film criticism into the ring for good measure. He'll even make you a hand-painted t-shirt if you ask nicely. You can track his activity here when there's nothing else to do at work.