Sunday, September 14, 2008

Documentaries

I watched a fun documentary last week called Lipstick and Dynamite with a subtitle of Piss and Vinegar. The title refers to women wrestlers and particularly the very first professional female wrestlers, many of whom wrestled man at the beginning of their careers to prove themselves. There were about half a dozen women they focused on, including the Fabulous Moolah, who I had actually seen wrestle a few times in my youth. Moolah, whose real name is Lillian Ellison, is the focus of the film, mainly because she took over the management of women wrestlers early in her career and made a fairly lucrative career off of it. All of the women have interesting stories, from growing up on a farm in Custer, Washington to lion taming. It’s a subculture similar to carnies, or the B-movie producers who used to peddle their exploitative films themselves city to city. I had remembered being interested in this film when it came through the Seattle International Film Festival a few years back, but what reminded me of it was seeing the obituary of wrestler Killer Kowalski in the NY Times recently. Walter “Killer” Kowalski was another wrestler I had seen in my youth when I used to attend professional wrestling matches at the old Jack Witschi’s Sports Arena in Attleboro, Massachusetts. Back then one used to pay $3 for bleacher seats and $4 for the more cushy seats close to the ring. Grizzled fans filled the place on the weekends, drinking beer from plastic cups, their cigar and cigarette smoke rising to the rafters. In those days it was common to have lady wrestlers on the card, along with midget wrestlers. At the end of the obituary for Killer Kowalski were related links, and one link was to the obituary for the Fabulous Moolah, who had died at age 84 in November of 2007. She died in the hospital after shoulder replacement surgery, possibly from a heart attack or blood clot. Lipstick and Dynamite is a fun documentary filled with interesting characters and wild stories. One might wonder what career path these independent women might have chosen had they come of age a few decades later.

Another good documentary I watched recently is The Flaming Lips: The Fearless Freaks. I’ve been a fan of The Flaming Lips for quite a few years and was even lucky enough to see them on their tour with Beck back in 2002. I remember the first time I heard some cuts from the classic album The Soft Bulletin. I was driving a rental car and listening to KEXP here in Seattle. That album is chock full of soaring sounds and emotional vocals, and it feels like an epic. The documentary is not what I expected. The director, Bradley Beesley, was a neighbor of Wayne Coyne’s when Wayne was in art school in 1991. He has been filming the Flaming Lips ever since. There are some poignant moments as we meet various family members of the band, who have had their own ups and downs, including prison terms and suicides by other family members. There is not a lot of concert footage, but the personal stories of the band more than makes up for that. This is the kind of documentary that even non-fans can enjoy.

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