The Notorious Bettie Page Reviews
Bettie Page was groundbreaking without realizing it. This film captures her innocent sweetness and unknowing naughty sexuality. While Page, with Irving Klaw and other photograthers, was groundbreaking, this film is not. It places her at the onset of the sexual revolution yet does not expound on that in any way. Its a straightforward story, not an in-depth sociological study.
It's a really well-meaning, but ultimately shallow film, and that's unfortunate. I liked that the film was rather classy, and kept from being too raunchy and exploitative, but at the same time, it feels a little safe, and they probably could have been edgier but still kept it pretty tasteless. I think a lot of the reasons for why the film falls short is that it really doesn't take risks, and has a pretty sketchy script. The film doesn't really give a lot of insights into the characters, it really skirts around some important aspects of her past (like an abusive marriage, childhood abuse, and a gang rape), and fails to incorporate these things into how they affected Page's later life. There's also not much of a character arc either, so the fact that she gives her career up to become a born again Christian seems far more striking than it should. The film shows how Bettie was clearly religious, even when she did risque modeling, but doesn't really provide a strong answer for why she gave it up.
With that out of the way, I can get to the praises I have. The costumes, set design, art direction, and cinematography are absolutely brilliant. The era really comes alive in super faithful recreations. It's shot in gorgeous black and white, with some selective use of color that's been altered to make it too appear as if it's from the time period. Best of all has to be the wonderful recreations of the famous photos and video clips. The DVD features include a short film of the actual Bettie, and it is amazing how accurate the film captured her and the era.
Of course, a major part of that success has to do with the casting and acting. Gretchen Mol is Page, and she is absolutely wonderful, and this is probably going to be her career defining role, and that'd be just fine. She perfectly captures Bettie's warmth, sweetness, sassiness, and naivete (indeed, the real Page never saw what she did as bad, and always treated the shoots, especially the bondage stuff, as just silly fun and make believe). She has the look down pat, and is the real reason to see the film, even if it isn't an overall success. The rest of the cast is decent, though overshadowed by Mol. My favorites have to be Chris Bauer and Lili Taylor as brother and sister duo Irving and Paula Klaw- the respectable business owners who did fetish shoots on the side. Cara Seymour is likewise good as fellow model Maxie, but in the end, this is truly Mol's movie.
I did enjoy the movie, despite it's clear flaws and shortcomings. It does a lot of great things, even though it ultimately fails to totally satisfy. I sort of recommend it, if only for Mol and the technical stuff.
The tale opens with Bettie's post-childhood trauma years; she is shy and apprehensive, but easily charmed. This aspect of her is then manipulated by a group of horny college boys in order to gang-rape her. Some time after this ordeal, she finds that the highly taboo practice of S&M photoshoots could be for her. Instead of being some sort of vice or crutch to alleviate her distresses on, Page treats the topic as sweet 'n' light, agreeing that people enjoy seperate things; if anything she finds it amusing.
This is, the crux of Harron' story, that there need be no real connection between trauma and 'specialist' pornography. Sadism isn't necessarily the by-product of deviance, and it's her persuavive argument that allows the auidence to be comfortbaly on Bettie's side when the US clampdown on 'degradation' marked her out as public enemy no.1.
Harron's film is finely crafted with some superb camerwork, the majority of it in monochrome, intentionally mimicking old photographs, and the occaisonal vibrant colour used for Bettie's various magazine covers.
[font=Century Gothic]"The Notorious Bettie Page" is a pefectly adequate biopic that does not venture much below the surface. It does not do a very good job of explaining why Bettie Page is still a legend fifty years after her modeling career ended. Gretchen Mol gives an excellent performance, capturing the apparent contradictions of a nice person(she does not drink nor sleep around) who is also comfortable posing undressed.[/font]
[font=Century Gothic]The movie demolishes the notion of a connection between pornography and sexual assault. Page is sexually assaulted before she leaves Nashville but is treated kindly by the photographers and fetishists she meets in New York and Miami Beach.[/font]
[font=Century Gothic]The New York and Nashville sections of the movie were filmed in black and white while Miami Beach was filmed in color.(Not really like that in real life.) The movie has a nostalgiac tone, especially towards what could not be shown in those old photos. But you have to remember, that even the material that was not that racy had to be hidden from view and could not be sent through the mail. And I would much rather have everything out in the open where people can be open about their desires and can choose the explicitness of the images they view.[/font]