God how I “love” the cantankerous spittle spewing voice of Mark Levin accompanied by Rossini’s Barber Of Seville. That’s how he sounded in Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s film, RBG, a documentary about Supreme Court Jusict Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It’s funny considering how calm and kind he sounded in Stephen Bannon’s 2011 Sarah Palin documentary, The Undefeated. When me and my friend Jack attended the one night only screening of that film under the guise of a Siskel And Ebert with differing political viewpoints, I tried my best to put aside cynicism and watch the film from a non-partisan view.

The 30 or so folks around us were, I think, the proud and devoted. I doubt anyone there was on the proverbial fence. I’m pretty sure most folks in attendance were fans wanting to watch Sarah Palin mama grizzly her way into their hearts. If the goal was to preach to the converted, they definitely achieved the goal. Tried as I did, I still walked away wanting to barf. Now I want to barf even more having just realized I gave Steve Bannon money.

RBG reminded me of another documentary I viewed recently, The Opera House. Both films used classical music. Both films, in varying degrees, tout the beauty of opera. Both were films whose subject I knew very little about. Unfortunately, RBG also reminded me of another film — The Undefeated.

Every now and then I try my best to venture outside the echo chamber of my own liberal thinking. I’d like to think that my line of thought is completely and totally right but I’m sure that, as blameless and righteous as I think it may be, it has its share of cracks and hypocrisies. The intro to this film didn’t help me with that aforementioned adventure.

Like RBG, The Undefeated used the opposition’s vitriol to introduce its female subject. As cheap as it felt, it was the only thing I found legitimately effective in the Palin film. In West and Cohen’s film, RBG, it was one of many things in the film I found effective. I say this, though, as someone who is ignorant to much of Ginsburg’s achievements. We’re given an intimate look into Ginsburg’s personal and professional life, from her years at Cornell to her marriage to Martin Ginsburg. It’s her journey through law that takes central focus. I couldn’t help but wince during a segment about her freshman year at Harvard Law School, where she and eight other women were asked by the dean what they were doing taking a seat that could be occupied by a man.


This would be one of the many indignities Ginsburg would face on her way to becoming the 107th Supreme Court justice in 1993. In swift fashion we are shown the trail-blazing rep she garnered in the ’70s as a Rutgers professor arguing for equal pay, housing, and education and before we know it, we’re dropped into the now. Today she has attained all the trappings of meme-induced rock star status thanks in part to her role as the lone liberal dissenting voice as the court has moved further right.

We see Ginsburg watch Kate McKinnon’s impression of her on Saturday Night Live for the first time. We see the Notorious RBG memes she’s inspired. We see Ginsburg give a lecture to students. As much as I liked the anecdotes Gloria Steinem, Nina Totenberg, Orrin Hatch, Bill Clinton, and a host of other admirers shared, it was more moving to hear about the woman herself and the 56-year love affair she shared with her husband, Martin Ginsburg. While it is understandably the secondary focus of the film, the relationship is just as engaging.

“A man blessed with a wonderful sense of humor, I tend to be rather sober,” Ginsburg recalls at one point, thinking of her husband.

At another point the film slows down a second to focus on the woman herself. Her friends called her Kiki. Ginsburg loves opera and apparently sucks at cooking. While fleeting, any effort the film takes to humanize, rather than deify her, works for me. In fact I wish there had been more of that. I liked revisiting the moment she became a rock in Donald Trump’s shoe but that and many other moments are merely granules in the 85 years she’s been on planet Earth. While I wish the film had a different focus than a Cliff Notes-esque rundown for my echo chamber, RBG is still a movie worth seeing, particularly if you appreciate the subject matter.

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