Lipstick & Dynamite: The First Ladies of Wrestling (review)

Lively and charged with a furious nostalgia, this in-your-face documentary about some of the roughest women you’ll ever meet is a vivid exploration of a mostly forgotten sport-cum-entertainment: lady wrestling of the 1940s and 50s. Some of the top stars of the era — Killem Gillem, Penny Banner, The Fabulous Moolah, and others — look back at their lives of travel, friendship, rivalries, and beating the living crap out of one another for money. Though they might deny it, these are uncommon women, some of whom were survivors of sexual and physical abuse in childhood only to face the same indignities at the hands of wrestling managers and promoters, in addition to financial exploitation (male bosses took up to half the money the women eared in the ring). Gender trailblazers in the prefeminist era, these gals had to be tough — and they are gloriously cranky old ladies to visit with today. The extras are as fascinating as the feature: enlightening film-festival Q&As with the lady wrestlers, outtakes and behind-the-scenes footage, an insightful commentary track by director Ruth Leitman, and much more.

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