Emma Goldman: An Exceedingly Dangerous Woman

PBS documentary chronicles the life of the legendary anarchist


| April 2004


Emma Goldman is a woman of great ability and of personal magnetism, and her persuasive powers are such to make her an exceedingly dangerous woman.
-- U.S. Attorney Francis Caffey, 1917

Those of you in the U.S. with television might want to put a note on your calendars: 'Emma Goldman,' a 90-minute documentary about the life of the anarchist orator, writer, and publisher, is scheduled to air on PBS Monday, April 12, as part of the network's 'American Experience' series. The film was written, produced and directed by Mel Bucklin (WGBH and Nebraskans for Public Television).

I've seen the film and think that it offers a fair overview of Goldman's life and influence, with occasional insight about her influence. If it seems more like an outline than a full story, that's perhaps testament to a life fully lived.

Carefully researched and using good archival photos, the documentary relies heavily on talking heads (twelve of fourteen of them of the male persuasion) like playwright Tony Kushner and novelist E. L. Doctorow, whose expertise about Emma Goldman is rarely made clear. The film also makes limited use of reenactment, including a brief sex scene. The Washingtpn Post reported on March 11 that 'suits' at WGBH recently 'went back and forth about how much cleavage to show' in the scene, after which the executive producer agreed to cut a couple of seconds.

One question the film doesn't ask is whether Goldman, in any of her writing or speaking about social injustice, ever addressed the issue of racism.

A web site for the PBS broadcast augments the program extensively, with teachers' guide, timeline, biographies (one about Goldman's comrade Alexander Berkman), pdf files of a full issue of Mother Earth magazine, and an article about U.S. government repression that led to Goldman's deportation in 1919.
-- Chris Dodge






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