So I’ve got two pieces of good news. First, my Facebook comrade JJ recommended this film and it truly is dynamite. And second, I saw it on the free film website SnagFilms he sent me to, where there is a wealth of amazing cinema available online, with only short commercial interruptions.
“Lipstick & Dynamite” is the story of the wrestling girls of the 40s and 50s – a story of the brutal obstacles to working class women trying to do sport, of independent women scrapping to get beyond the control of exploitative dickheads, of tough broads paying the price day after day of trying to make it on their own. They were wrestlers who wanted to perfect their skills, while being forced by promoters to throw bouts or win them – usually depending on whether or not they would put out sexually to get ahead.
Their wrestling style was raw and intense and frankly amazing, especially as they had to work despite injuries and sickness. In contrast to their chosen life as bad-asses, they were required to dress up, make up, and enter the rink in heels and lipstick. When outside in the world, if they wanted to stay in the game, they had to be glamorous and well-groomed at all times.
The women were used as a side-show, a freak show, a little sauce on the main events, even when it was obvious that they were the top draw. The promoters paid them a pittance compared to the male wrestlers and kept 50% of that pittance. It was not that the women weren’t fully aware of being sexually, financially and professionally exploited, it was that they lacked alternative ways to make a living as athletes. Gladys “Killem” Gillem, who couldn’t take the male bosses anymore, switched to wrestling lions, bears, and alligators.
The vintage footage combined with the reminiscences of these wrestling stars at a reunion all these decades later makes for riveting if maddening cinema. I grew up watching wrestling every week with my family, eating hotdogs at the card table in the living room. In fact, here is a tribute I wrote in 2008 when Killer Kowalski died.
In "Lipstick & Dynamite” the rivalries remain even as the girls are in their 80s, some of them poor and alone, others having found subsequent careers, and the selfish, ambitious Fabulous Moolah now the sole remaining bridge from the old days to the shiny mockery that today’s wrestling has become.