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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.