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Carol Doda’s acquittal is front page news in the San Francisco Chronicle.Getty Images

Carol Doda Topless at the Condor

Directed by Marlo McKenzie, Jonathan Parker

Opens in select theatres April 5

″Two of San Francisco’s most famous landmarks, Carol Doda!” That’s the kind of nudge-wink intro Doda elicited on talk shows in the 1960s and ‘70s, at the peak of her fame as the first topless dancer in North America, and one of the first women to receive regular injections of industrial-grade silicone, increasing her breast size from 32 B to 44 DD. So eager are directors Marlo McKenzie and Jonathan Parker to tell every side of her story, this film is about six documentaries in one, and eventually kind of a horror movie.

It begins as a history of the swinging scene in 1964 North Beach, Calif., when Doda wows crowds by frugging on a white baby grand piano that descends from the ceiling of the Condor nightclub. It detours into a history of women’s bathing suits, leading to Rudi Gernreich’s scandalous monokini, which Doda dons one night, causing a sensation that ripples outward to topless shoeshine women, topless musicians, etc. When the city cracks down, the film dips into a legal battle, with triumphant attorney Melvin Belli proclaiming, “Miss Doda can go back to the piano where she belongs.” (Ahem.)

Addicted to the spotlight and needing to stand out, Doda begins injecting silicone that’s idling unused on Japanese freighters, completely unregulated medically (I definitely wanted more of that particular documentary). This brings us to the feminism portion of the story, where several charming and brainy talking heads discuss whether Doda was a brave pioneer of female bodily autonomy who helped usher in the women’s movement and the sexual revolution, or a hapless victim of the patriarchy and the male gaze. (Answer: both.) We also get glimpses of her bio (mysterious, tragic) and her fight for fair pay (fat chance). In the last section, when the silicone has poisoned her kidneys and lungs, it’s a cautionary tale about the perils of fame and external validation. “What keeps you going?” one interviewer asks. “Vitamins and insecurity,” she replies.

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In the end, Doda is a perfect subject for all these iterations, because she herself asks us to project whatever we want onto her. What I see is a social media influencer before social media, a person who did whatever it took to keep us looking, especially if that meant she didn’t have to look too deeply at herself.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a critic’s pick designation across all coverage. (Television reviews, typically based on an incomplete season, are exempt.)

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