The Notorious Bettie Page

{With the news of Bettie Page's passing last night, I thought I should re-run my review of her movie biopic from two years ago, only to discover that somehow it never ran! Anyway, here you go. -H}


The very concept of Bettie Page is and always will be an enigma. A poor country girl who somehow becomes a pin-up queen, eventually moving to nude pictorials, then bondage and fetish magazines and films. Through it all Bettie seemed to retain a child-like innocence that belied her luscious curves and choice of (non)-attire. That sounds interesting, and a movie about her life promised to be interesting, too. (It had nothing to do with the fact that the actor playing Ms. Page would be naked a lot and perhaps even better up on screen. No, nothing to do with that.)

I still find Bettie Page an enigma. I still feel I know nothing about her. Maybe no one could ever really know such a girl, but you are certainly not going to get any pointers from THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE.

(Mol, as Page)

When I heard Gretchen Mol had the lead in THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE, I was apprehensive. I have never been a fan, and there seemed to be a distinct possibility she would ruin the experience. This is important because we're talking about lots of nudity, and Smut! (And, you know, a person's life and all that.) Sacred territory, and I refused to have my experience ruined by Mol.

(Mol, filling out the part)

As it turned out, the exact opposite happened. Besides having the body for it (wowsa!), Mol is actually great at capturing the quirky Page, while the movie itself is one big snooze.

How can a movie about a girl involved in the "underground bondage movie and nude picture industry" be so boring? I don’t know, but it is. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE is a G Movie with nudity. Sounds strange, don’t it?

Maybe it’s fitting. I read a interview with Page once, and she comes across as one weird girl. Apparently, Bettie never really understood who was buying the fetish pictures of her and the other girls in bondage scenes. Innocent to the end. That’s definitely the way she appears in the movie: oblivious.

What is even weirder is that the film implies that Bettie was raped by her father, and in another scene shows Bettie before and after a gang rape. These events would be pivotal and formulating in anyone’s life, but they seem to have no effect on Bettie, who remains na├»ve, cheerful and trusting throughout.

Did Bettie Page's experiences have anything to do with getting involved in pin-up photography? If so, how? If not, why include it in the movie?

I’d go on, but what’s the point? There is virtually zero insight into Bettie Page, the world she lived in, or the attitudes of the times (whether it’s the purveyor’s of such “smut,” or the people who wanted to shut it down). It’s not the filmmakers tried and failed: they just didn’t try.

Bettie is famous for accepting Christ and quitting modeling cold turkey, but to this day she has refused to apologize for the nude pictures, saying God is not against the beautiful human form. (Can I get an Amen?) That attitude is fascinating and is worth exploring, but in the film the revelation is tacked on the end, not for dramatic climax, but simply because that's where the movie stops. (It's as if once the clothes come back on the director runs out of ideas.) It is the same way for the entire film: one check mark after another, never leading anywhere.

There’s a two minute clip in the Extra Features of the DVD of the actual Bettie Page. She is silent as she undresses for the camera. It is more interesting than anything in the film. What is she thinking? What is she feeling? Does she realize exactly what she’s doing? Is this all as innocent as it seems to her? Is she acting? Is she just stupid? The look on her face is peculiar, like a pin-up Rorschach.

Since I don’t want you to have to rent the movie just for that, I found some You Tube clips that might do the same thing. (There is no nudity in the You Tube clips; you have to rent the movie for that. Bettie is clothed, albeit in bra and panties.) Take a look at this clip. Is she innocent? Does she comprehend what's going on?

I also found a rare interview with Bettie in 2005, which is fascinating despite the mushy interviewer. Bettie seems as strange as ever, refusing to allow her face to be shown, as she wants to be remembered for her great beauty. In fact, the old Bettie still sounds like a girl who would make an interesting subject for a movie.

I wish someone had thought of that.

Originally written December, 2006
Posted December 13, 2008

{All pictures are Bettie Page unless indicated}

I still don't think Gretchen Mol is a world-class actor,
but that sure is one world-class rack.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't remember seeing this the first time it was posted. Anyways, I watched the movie on the movie channel a long time ago, and was so utterly disappointed. Gretchen Mol was horrible aside from the physical. I wanted desperately for something interesting to happen, as one would expect. I was also afraid you might say nicer things about it. Thanks for seeing things the same way I did.