'She's Beautiful When She's Angry': Film Review

Virginia Blaisdell
Unbelievably, this vital effort marks the first feature-length documentary about the subject

Mary Dore's documentary chronicles the early years of the women's liberation movement

It's rare in today's era of overstuffed nonfiction films that a documentary leaves you wanting more. But that's the case with Mary Dore's cheekily titled She's Beautiful When She's Angry, about the early days of the women's liberation movement. Remarkably representing the first feature documentary about the subject, this illuminating effort packs a wealth of archival footage and current interviews with many vital figures of the movement into its brief running time. Destined to become a staple in educational circles, the film is an important cinematic document that is sadly all too relevant at a time when so many of its issues are still being hotly debated.

Concentrating on the years 1966 to 1971, it details the many significant events involved, from the publication of Betty Friedan's landmark tome The Feminist Mystique, to the founding of the National Organization of Women (NOW), to the 1970 Women's Strike for Equality, conducted on the 50th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which called for such things as free abortions on demand and equal employment opportunities for women.

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There is no shortage of fascinating incidents on display: the protest at the 1968 Miss America Pageant, in which "Women's Liberation" banners were unfurled; the street theater conducted by the wonderfully named WITCH (Women's International Conspiracy from Hell) that included a "National Ogle Day," during which women turned the tables on their male tormentors on Wall Street; and a clip from David Frost's talk show in which he earnestly asked his feminist guests, "Why are you so sensitive?"

The film also delves into topics such as the movement's lesbian contingent, personified by a group dubbed the "Lavender Menace," which Friedan, among others, tried to downplay — one interview subject comments sardonically, "They used to say that the NOW meetings were the best cruising place in town" — and the growing involvement of black and Latino women.  

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Also addressed is the groundbreaking book Our Bodies, Ourselves, published by the Boston Women's Health Book Collective, which went on to become a massive best seller around the world.

Among those interviewed are Ellen Willis, Susan Brownmiller, Rita Mae Brown, Kate Millett and Congresswoman Eleanor Norton Holmes, among many others, their comments frequently juxtaposed with glimpses of them during the movement's heyday.

At times the sheer accumulation of material proves a bit overwhelming, especially for those not already intimately familiar with the events being discussed. But that's a minor criticism of this long overdue, hugely informational effort, which fairly cries out for a sequel.

Production: She's Beautiful Film Project
Director: Mary Dore
Producers: Mary Dore, Nancy Kennedy
Executive producers: Pamela Tanner Boll, Elizabeth Driehaus
Directors of photography: Svetlana Cvetko, Alicia Weber
Editors: Nancy Kennedy, Kate Taverna
Composer: Mark De Gli Antoni

No rating, 92 min. 

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