Documentary Site started as an outlet for my interests in documentary 15 years ago. Since then, my presence has expanded to writing, managing Twitter fans, and connecting with makers, promoters, and fans of documentary. Probably three of the coolest things to come from this endeavor are being invited to write for POV, visiting Kartemquin studios, and leading a discussion after a screening of The Trials of Muhammad Ali. My current project involves watching and writing about 365 documentaries in 2014. Feel free to send along your suggestions via Twitter @documentarysite!

#365Docs: Lipstick and Dynamite (78/365)

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I’m watching 365 documentaries and writing about each one in 2014. Tweet your suggestions to @documentarysite, or send an e-mail to hmcintosh@documentarysite.com. Read more.

Note: This post may contain spoilers.

Lipstick and Dynamite (2004) is Ruth Leitman’s look back at the lady wrestlers of the 1940s to the 1960s.

Using interviews with the wrestlers themselves, this energetic documentary explores the culture around the sport and how it influenced these women. Some of the cultural expectations follow the gender norms in the 1950s. While these women were wrestlers in the ring, they were ladies outside the ring, expected to wear hose, high heels, dresses, painted nails, and perfect hair.

As women participating in a sport at a time when it wasn’t wholly accepted, these women faced challenges both professional and personal. On the professional level, these women wrestled at a time when women were expected to be at home taking care of the family. Several states banned women from fighting in the ring, though many of the women interviewed in this film were integral to changing that legislation. Promoters in the industry frequently took advantage of them, keeping significant winnings for themselves and paying the women very little. In some cases their safety proved secondary to the bouts, shown particularly through the young woman who died from injuries of the ring. These wrestlers also faced safety questions in their own lives, such as through abuse from spouses and boyfriends.

Leitman’s use of interviews in particular paints not a unifying picture but instead one with conflicting perspectives. While The Great Moolah presents herself as the greatest wrestler of multiple decades and the fairest of promoters, other wrestlers point out her unfair treatment of them and others. These conflicting stories only add interest to what is already a nuanced history.

Woven throughout these interviews are archival materials, including pictures and promotional materials from the time, and even segments from television shows.

Overall, Lipstick and Dynamite provides a colorful overview of women’s wrestling history through these women’s experiences in their own words.

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Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh started Documentary Site as a resource for documentary media and has greatly enjoyed the connections it has fostered over the years.
  • jules

    While I respect your opinion on exploitation, Kuras gave us a very vivid picture of what Americans do without thinking of the consequences they create. We need to see and face the truth, otherwise this filim would not have evoked an emotional response from everyone responding to this blog. We create our own social dilemmas and must be able to face it. My only hope is that Thavisouk Phrasavath’s mom’s message was not done in vain.

  • http://www.specificpictures.com/ Jennifer

    I am sorry this is a very belated response to this interesting post, but I have made a couple of feature docs where authorial credit has been shared with the main protagonist, and I think there are more examples out there.
    The first was a collaboration between Vicky Funari, myself and Paulina Cruz Suarez, a feature called “Paulina” that premiered at Sundance in 1998.  http://icarusfilms.com/new2001/paul.html
    I also co-directed and co-produced “Special Circumstances,” which aired on PBS in the Voces series a couple of years ago.  That was with director/producer Marianne Teleki and her husband Hector Salgado, who was also the main character.While the collaborative model is not my only preferred means of working, I’m doing it yet again in a web-based project for Latino Public Broadcasting and the CPB American Graduate initiative. It will be coming out in September on PBS.org:  http://www.streetknowledge.tv
    The collaborative arena is indeed fascinating documentary territory.

    Cheers, Jennifer Maytorena Taylor (“New Muslim Cool”)