Synopsis by Brian Whitener
Fifty Wonderful Years is an excellent documentary on the 1973 Miss California pageant put together by the San Francisco based collective Optic Nerve. Never heavy handed, the documentary blends great behind-the-scenes footage of the contest and contestants to create a gently ironic critique of America's pageant culture. Through marvelously editing, the video simply gives 'em just enough rope. There are some directly incriminating scenes, as you would expect, like one where a judge salaciously sucks on his glasses while eyeing contestants. But generally, the video stays away from direct incriminations, preferring to reveal the distance between the pageant's public persona and its on camera reality. The video also manages to demonstrate the enormous amount of effort the pageant expends to keep the girls in line, this in turn serves as an analysis of the construction of this particular feminine identity. All in all, Fifty Wonderful Years is a very interesting examination of middle class American women in the 1970s, filtered through the beauty pageant lens.