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Notorious Bettie Page

USA 2006
Directed by
Mary Harron
91 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Notorious Bettie Page

Synopsis: The story of Bettie Page, successful 1950's pin-up model whose bondage photos became the target of a Senate investigation.

Director Mary Harron (who wrote and directed I Shot Andy Warhol, 1996) and her writing partner, Guinevere Turner, take an unusual view of their character, Bettie Page, a real-life pin-up girl of pre-Playboy "men's" magazine, shifting the moral evaluation away from themselves as story-tellers and on to the viewer. Many would no doubt say that her behaviour is only explicable if she was in deep and chronic denial but rather tham suggest any psychological torment, Harron and Turner present her as a genuine naif. Thus, straighfacedly affirming a kind of Marilyn Monroe-esque virgin/whore fantasy, their Bettie Page is a good-hearted country girl who despite a history of abuse that includes, father-daughter incest, pack rape and a violent husband has an almost saintly unworldliness that enables her to pose for (what by today's standards are soft-core) S & M magazines in the belief that she was "bringing happiness" to her audience.

Integrating archival footage with recreations of Page’s photos and movies, and switching between judicious black and white and colour photography by Mott Hupfel the deftly captures the look of the era and its repressive and suppressive mores, ones which well pre-dated our present-day sexual liberalism as it tell us about Page’s life from being a Tennessee teenager in the 1930s through to the mid-1950s when she was born-again and retired from the nudie magazine business.

In the lead, a well-cast Gretchen Mol, an actress in who had her 15 minutes of fame appearing on the cover of the September 1998 Vanity Fair hyped as Hollywood's Next 'It' Girl but was little seen thereafter makes up for the lost time, fully bringing to like Bettie's girl-next-door wholesomeness and the film is equally well-made with fans of 1950s popular culture in for a real treat from the excellent art and costume design and a convincing sense of the period's mores and values - a mixture of religious commitment and prurience - and DOP Mott Hupfel mixing the predominant black and white footage with post-card bright colour sections when Bettie heads down to Miami. The support cast is also excellent with Chris Bauer and Lili Taylor as Irving and Paula Klaw, Bettie's hard-working smut peddling employers, and David Strathairn making a cameo as Chair of a Senate subcommittee investigating pornography's effect on juveniles.

Although it shares some of the playfulness of Tim Burton’s 1994 film, Ed Wood,The Notorious Betty Page is played straight with an intentionally light touch and without any evident irony. For anyone in the mood for some low key and slightly off-beat entertainment this should please.




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