The Notorious Bettie Page
Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio Commentary By Director Mary Harron, Guinevere Turner And Gretchen Mol; Presenting Betty Page – Short Film; Cast Interviews; Theatrical Trailer.
BETTIE Page became one of the most popular models of the 1950s thanks to her pin-up poses. She is said to have been photographed more than Marilyn Monroe and Cindy Crawford combined.
Yet she achieved notoriety for her fetish poses, many of which antagonised the “moral majority” to such an extent that she was eventually called to appear before the “Kefauver Hearings” of the Senate Sub-Committee on Juvenile Delinquency to explain her actions.
Mary Harron’s biopic, The Notorious Bettie Page, which features an Oscar-worthy performance from Gretchen Mol, looks at the life and career of this iconic superstar but sadly feels as though it’s merely scratching the surface.
It’s extremely episodic, rapidly flitting between key moments in Page’s life without really pausing to examine any of the possible emotional effects of her experiences.
Hence, viewers will never quite be sure whether Page was a fiercely intelligent woman who knew exactly what she was doing in order to gain the maximum exposure, or a hopelessly naive girl whose kindness and innocence was frequently exploited.
A tight 91-minute running time doesn’t help matters either given the timespan the movie is covering.
But if the real Bettie Page never becomes properly uncovered, the film does remain worth seeing for a number of reasons.
First of all, it looks gorgeous, having been shot in colour and black and white depending on where Page is in her life – Florida unfolds in glorious technicolour, while New York is all about the black and whites.
And secondly, it boasts a terrific lead performance from Mol, who strikes a near-perfect pose as Page and who throws herself into some really demanding scenes with sheer relish.
Even though we’re never quite sure what makes her tick, Mol brings a great deal of warmth and humanity to Page, radiating joy and vivacity as well as a profound sense of innocence.
Her Page is a woman who seems totally ignorant about the potential effects of pornography on young minds, even though an earlier episode in her life ends up with her being horribly violated.
Mol is only able to hint at the effect of such an episode because Harron’s direction seems intent on keeping things light – and it’s another reason the film, as a whole, doesn’t convince as effectively as it might.
That said, it does still deliver a fascinating insight into a purer time in life, where porn wasn’t just the click of a button away – even though some of the ramblings of David Strathairn’s Senator Estes Kefauver seem hysterical when set against the context of what’s permissable today.
Page’s sudden decision to walk away from her career and turn to religion also draws the film to a thought-provoking conclusion, especially in light of America’s changing attitude towards sex.
The Notorious Bettie Page is therefore an engrossing experience that strips away some of the layers of an icon without ever really laying her bare.
Running time: 91 minutes