NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE, THE
Sweet and innocent Bettie Page (Gretchen Mol) leaves her Nashville home for New York after a traumatic episode, where she drifts into modeling, flirts with acting and soon becomes famous as a pin up girl in the late 40s, and soon after for the bondage photos that trigger a Senate investigation into pornography. She is around when Playboy is launched, and she remains a potent sex icon. All the while, though, Bettie also remains naïve and all too trusting, as the effects of her photos seem so out of proportion to her. Her faith eventually leads to her turning her back on modeling and turning instead to finding God.
Review by Louise Keller:
Part of Bettie Page's appeal was the fact that she was wholesome. She had a wholesome look and a body that said otherwise. Her rise to notoriety was never by design, but by chance. She was an innocent, church-loving gal from Nashville, who agreed to pose for a few photographs. It took no time at all for her to discard 'the bits of material' that made up her bikini, and her association with Irving and Paula Klaw, who had a discerningly 'unusual' client list, led her to pose for the required S & M photographs and short films. Hers is a wonderful story, and Mary Harron's feature is both fascinating and surprising. With Gretchen Mol glowing in the title role, The Notorious Bettie Page opens the book on a woman who unknowingly became a sex icon, at a time when pop culture was in its first bloom.
Although Bettie lost her innocence early in the piece, there was always something about her that remained naive. Her smile and demeanour - in this age of pointy bras, girdles and seamed stockings - were disarming and girlie. She quickly learned the art of 'clothes, pose and expression', but never hesitated when asked to lean over or lift her leg when wearing skimpy underwear, seemingly unaware of the effect her actions might bring. When naked, she was never burdened by self-consciousness, but exuded a joie de vivre that celebrated not only her physical attributes, but her innocence. What did she think of when asked to act out a fraught emotion? She thought of what Jesus might do to her for all her sins.
Harron begins the story in a New York court room in 1955 during a senate investigation into pornography. It was in January of the same year that Bettie appeared in Hugh Heffner's new publication Playboy - wearing nothing but a Santa hat. At court, she cuts a lonely figure, sitting alone in the corridor dressed conservatively, waiting patiently to be called as a witness. Filmed in erotic black and white (with several colour sequences), the film encapsulates the complexity and paradoxical situation of the girl who found equal highs in religion and in her re-enacted, outlandish scenes dressed as a dominatrix. It is a wondrously entertaining biopic that gives a dazzling insight into a time when the world was ready to embrace the notion of a sex goddess, innocently.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This is a riveting portrait of both Bettie Page and her era, mostly the 50s when public America was puritanical while pubic America was diabolical - relatively speaking. Mary Harron's film is a character study and one that is grounded in the surprise revelation. Just what you think a girl like that might be like, is exactly what Bettie Page is NOT like. Based on research and readily available material, Harron and co-writer Guinevere Turner make this a biopic with depth and dimension as they open Bettie's life to our voyeuristic eyes.
Gretchen Mol is sensational as Bettie, a most contradictory character, yet one that rings true precisely because she is so self contradictory - at least at first glance. But Mol's performance is the more stunning because she makes it seem like a superficial reading - until we begin to recognise the absence of depth to Bettie is part of her being. A simple Southern girl is the perfect, trusting (too trusting, as the opening scenes underline) innocent who stumbles into the world of sexual deviation and hardly notices. Naïve with a capital N.
This is essentially the film's hook; but there are many other intriguing and engrossing details to keep us glued, and a wonderful technical effort to make the film authentically of its period. Faded black and white, occasional colour as shot 50 years ago (bleeding and fuzzy) and a few iris pulls help give the film a mood of archival discovery.
And what inspired genius to cast David Strathairn in the small but pivotal role as the chairman of the Senate committee investigating porn, following his role as Ed Murrow in Good Night, And Good Luck, the fair and broad minded broadcaster in conflict with the menacing Senator Joe McCarthy.
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NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE, THE (MA)
CAST: Gretchen Mol, Chris Bauer, Jared Harris, David Strathairn, Sarah Paulson, Lili Taylor, Austin Pendleton
PRODUCER: Pamela Koffler, Katie Roumel, Christine Vachon
DIRECTOR: Mary Harron
SCRIPT: Mary Harron, Guinevere Turner
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Mott Huppfel
EDITOR: Trcia Cook
MUSIC: Mark Souzo, Joseph S. DeBeasi (choral)
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Gideon Ponte
RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Dendy
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 1, 2007