|Directed by:||Coleman Romalis||Rating:||TV-PG|
|Release Date:||2000||Running Time:||41 mins.|
|More Info:||Wikipedia on Emma Goldman||Category:||World Jewry|
Once mistrusted as “the most dangerous woman in America,” Emma Goldman is now celebrated as a pioneer of progressive social values and has been immortalized on stage, screen and bumper stickers. Emma Goldman: The Anarchist Guest profiles the woman who helped introduce ideas like the use of birth control long before they were accepted by the mainstream, and some, like pacifism, that are still controversial.
“If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution,” Goldman declared almost a century ago. At the time, the sentiment set her apart from mainstream American society as a radical anarchist, but today the famous quote appears on buttons, bumper-stickers, t-shirts, and mugs throughout the country.
Though she was short in stature, Emma Goldman had a firecracker personality and a domineering spirit that made her seem much bigger. Not every woman – or man for that matter – could write letters with acclaimed essayist H. L. Mencken or meet with communist leader Vladimir Lenin himself to complain that his government was stifling her freedom of speech. But Goldman could. She rose to greatness by trusting in her sharp mind and never doubting her own importance. Suffice it to say, Goldman never lacked for self-confidence.
Long before hippies protested, “Make love not war,” Goldman was advocating the same pro-sexuality, anti-war sentiments. Just before the turn of the twentieth century, before she was even twenty years old, Lithuanian-born Goldman moved to New York City’s Lower East Side and devoted herself to the anarchist movement. There she lectured to packed audiences, educating the poor on the subject of birth control, pontificating against war and arguing that the government was the people’s worst enemy.
The government certainly became one of Goldman’s worst enemies, when J. Edgar Hoover become the first director of the FBI. Hoover was suspicious of Goldman’s outspoken nature and found her threatening, calling her “the most dangerous woman in America.” And during the first Red Scare, he had her deported to the Soviet Union.
But just how dangerous was she really? Digging into Goldman’s personal life, the film attempts to separate the controversial public figure from the more sympathetic private woman. While Goldman was censured for explicitly recounting her sexual exploits in her autobiography Living My Life, her biographer suggests that her love affairs were the result of profound loneliness. “You have been in the arms of every woman who wanted you,” she once wrote in a letter to a man she loved, suggesting a jealousy both of her lover’s experience with other women and for his having been so wanted.
Emma Goldman is lucky enough to capture interviews with Goldman’s contemporaries, who share personal memories of their bossy but loyal friend. They all seem to agree that Goldman was totally sure of her ideas and had a dominating presence that left little room for argument. But she also had a great gift for friendship, drawing people in and fighting for them wholeheartedly when they needed her defense.
In the end, no place on earth could meet Emma Goldman’s high expectations. She found the Soviet Union too restrictive, and Toronto – where she took refuge after being deported — was dull and provincial. While she lived in New York City, she rallied against the American government; but after she was exiled, she would sit on the border of Canada and sob, longing for her old home—that is until the controversial Sacco and Vanzetti murder trial. When her fellow anarchists were convicted and executed, Goldman turned against the United States for good. With extremely high standards, Goldman couldn’t be satisfied living anywhere.
But people with high expectations often get their way, eventually. Since her death, society has evolved to incorporate many of the “radical” ideas of feminism and freedom for which Goldman fought. In many ways we have Emma Goldman to thank.