Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter, The (1980)

Written by Beth A. Mooney and Emanuel Levy

The mass media propaganda of this period is notoriously misleading as to what kind of women took war jobs during WWII, and why they did it. Director Connie Fields uses interviews from participants in WWII work and juxtaposes them with the “March of Time” reels and the War Office rhetoric that offered patronizing praise to these women, while offering little else in terms of working conditions, wages, and child care.

The testimonials of the women who lived “Rosie's” life during WWII give a first-hand account of the difficulty of the work they did, the dangerous conditions of the factories, and also the camaraderie they cultivated, enjoyed and cherish.

Five women (two white, three black) were selected from 700 preliminary interviews to be the focus of the memories of Rosie. Their interviews (in color) are interwoven with b/w photographs, “March of Time” newsreel footage, and government propaganda shorts. The resulting evidence often directly contradicts the information given in the latter two sources. The unpleasant tales illustrate the extent to which those official sources were misleading.

The docu also pays attention to the post-War propaganda and narratives. The same media agents that urged women to enter the work force during the War bombarded women who worked after the War's end with the stigma of being unfeminine.

The personal narratives, historical photographs, and news footage are enhanced by the accompaniment of popular period music.

Most critics reacted favorably to The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter, treating it with respect and praising the credibility and personality that the articulate interviewees bring out as a crucial history lesson. The archival news footage and photography was well-chosen and added emotional and/or factual support to the narratives where appropriate.

The film's shortcomings are related to the lack of discussion of the relationship between the women and the unions, and the interviewees' conflicts with the social forces that placed them back into the low-wage “domestic service” work.

As a result, the critic Sue Davenport noted in a 1983 “Jump Cut” piece that she felt “suddenly isolated from the five women.” According to her, because of this lack of delving into the “nitty gritty of the conflicts of capitalism and patriotism”, “Rosie the Riveter” doesn't serve as a commentary on the dynamics of history. Moreover, for Davenport, the docu's particular ending leaves viewers without a more real and meaningful connection to the women in the present struggle.