Lipstick & Dynamite, Piss & Vinegar: The First Ladies of Wrestling

Women in wrestling today are Amazonian sex objects, skimpily dressed and there primarily to titillate men. The original women wrestlers from the 40s and 50s were, well, pretty much the same. Ruth Leitman's (Alma) Lipstick & Dynamite, Piss & Vinegar: The First Ladies of Wrestling is an amusing look back at some of the first women who participated in this 'sport.' The odd thing about this film is that while it is full of larger-than-life personalities, the film itself often falls flat. These women, many in their sixties and seventies, are still feisty (and some are still wrasslin'), but Leitman opts for a standard biopic, focusing on the careers of some of the more popular women and a "what are they doing now" update. The only stand out element is some excellent footage she includes from those formative years.

Lillian Ellison, aka "The Fabulous Moolah," is still part of the wrestling community today. She and her roommate "The Great Mae Young" (yes, they are wrestlers and roommates) are still active in Vince McMahon's WWE. Moolah, and most of the other wrestlers that Leitman interviews exhibit all of the traits of a successful wrester - tremendous physical ability, and loud, brash personalities. For women, it was much more difficult finding a place in wrestling, especially earlier in the century. They had to deal with sleazy promoters and perceptions of what was proper or improper for women to do. The ironic thing is that they often drew larger crowds than the men.

For a film about wrestling, Leitman skirts the 'entertainment' vs. sport element. Some of the wrestlers hint at the former, but Leitman never comes out and acknowledges this. Its omission is a bit strange, and ends up leaving something of a hole to some of the context. Moolah, Young, Ella Waldeck, Gladys "Killem" Gillem, and the others are still superb athletes, even taking into account that the matches are not always 'real.' The film also glosses over Moolah and Young's current jobs. They are enjoying themselves, but do not realize that they are essentially the butt of jokes, especially when they are in the ring wrestling with current male wrestlers. Some of the other women wrestlers disapprove of this. Leitman highlights the careers of each woman, and basically has them reminisce about the good times and the bad times, touching upon important matches, friendships, or rivalries. They worry about winning, and injuries, and the death of one wrestler caused a lasting impact on many of the women. They also talk about their lives before wrestling, and what made them decide to take up the particular occupation.

However, there's a huge feeling "okay, but…" permeating the film. Showing the women now, versus how they appeared is interesting, but there isn't much else to the film. Especially since Lipstick & Dynamite arrives in theaters the same times as two other documentaries about trailblazing women. Watermarks, about the Hakoah Vienna Women's swimming team has much more emotional depth, and Double Dare, about two stuntwomen, is much more enjoyable. It's nice that there is a film about these women, but it seems a bit too light and superficial to care about.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 15 minutes, Not Rated but contains some language, probably between a PG-13 and R.

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