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  • The Notorious Bettie Page
    • The Notorious Bettie Page
    • Runtime:91 min
    • Release Date:2014-10-31 16:22:30
    • Director: Mary Harron
    • Genres: Biography, Drama
    • Studio:
MOVIE REVIEW:The Notorious Bettie Page
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*** This review may contain spoilers ***

In the 1890s you couldn't show an ankle, now the internet is awash in
explicit sexuality of the most diverse sort. Bettie Page came somewhere
in between, like the 1950s, when brassieres were conical and foundation
garments (that is, girdles) were the ne plus ultra of sensuality in
magazines with titles like "Tip and Toe" and "Black Stockings." It's
probably an interesting story of Bettie Page's rise to fame as a model
in these schlock magazines and movies but you won't find it here.

What you find here is a rather routine story of a not-so-young girl
from Nashville, Tennessee, who isn't ashamed of her body, despite the
calumny of her family and the Baptist church She's a kind of Candide
among sharks. Good thing too. There are one or two scenes of Gretchen
Moll naked, full frontal, and a couple of reenactments of her role in
mild S/M movies that ought to turn on the preverts among us and every
British man on earth.

I don't know why I should bother outlining the story. You could
probably write it yourself between snoozes. Bettie, you'll be surprise
to find out, relishes the prospect of giving pleasure to others, as
long as it preserves her virtue. In fact there is a nicely done scene
of Bettie being unwittingly lured into a gang bang as a youth, probably
fabricated. Oh, and there's also a suggestion of sexual abuse. Ho hum.

Sadly, once she gets into the major leagues, her managers push the
envelope too far and she gets into trouble. And all because she's a
Rousseauian savage.

This is an HBO production. They've come up with some fine, challenging
stuff — Citizen X and others — but this isn't one of them.

I have a poster of Bettie Page on the wall of my hallway. She's not
particularly attractive. I'll tell you why it's there. I have a
preverted brother who was fond of her. And I have a young lady chat
friend who is an Argentinian midget who asked if I knew anything about
her. Queries from two such sources were impossible to forget, so I
ordered a poster. Haven't looked at it in years.

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Gretchen Mol's impeccable casting as the winking, ticklish nudie-cutie
Bettie Page could not have been a better choice, but that was the
film's biggest inspiration and nothing else here quite measures up. A
naïve gal from Tennessee, church-going and raised by a strict mother,
hits New York City in 1949 after walking out on her marriage to an
abusive soldier. Bettie wins a few modest beauty contests before
stepping into her future role as a pin-up model for men's entertainment
magazines; with times and tastes quickly changing however, the era of
the cheesecake photo passes and Bettie smoothly segues into a harder
type of pornography: bondage photos and light S&M shorts. Nothing in
this girl's life appears to happen according to a plan…it's all
serendipitous. Bettie is asked, "You wanna try this?" or "Can you do
something like this?", and her answer is always, "Sure, why not!" To
her it was all fun and games, accompanied by a big country smile and an
innocent shrug. When her steady fellow points out to her how
disreputable her S&M photos are, her answer is to fly off to Miami
Beach, where she picks up a muscle-boy and dances under the stars. Are
we to assume Bettie was not so sweet and innocent, that she knew
exactly what she was doing? A flashback to Page's childhood suggests a
certain looseness already forming (also a hint of sexual abuse by a man
who appears to be her father). The subplot about a formal investigation
into smut-peddlers is a squashy mess, and the black-and-white
cinematography is mostly disappointing. Still, Gretchen Mol is
something else entirely; creating a genuine character out of this
noodle-headed script shows true talent, and she matches up with our
memories of the legendary Bettie Page quite nicely. We never feel
anything for this Bettie, we're never moved by her sordid
ups-and-downs, though that's due to the handling. Mol rises above the
sloppy material and gives it more than just a nostalgic kick. She's in
the spirit, even if the rest of the picture could certainly use some
soul. ** from ****

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Sex sells… but they weren't ready for the kinkiness. Director Mary
Harron (American Psycho, I Shot Andy Warhol) crafts out a respectably
diverting, but moving bio-pic on legendary cult pin-up sensation Bettie
Page. The narrative follows on through her southern childhood of a
religious upbringing with a controlling mother to her quest of being an
inspired actress (something and then it took off for her with the
modelling jobs, especially her participation in outlawed bondage fetish
photographs/and films that would cause a ruckus for their deviant
nature and would become a target of a Senate investigation. She was a
natural in what she did because she loved what she was doing, and
became one of the world's first sex icons… and a timeless one too. What
really makes this one work is the tremendously radiant and fetching
Gretchen Mol who really does sincerely morph into Bettie Page's buxom
shape and spirited persona. It's an admirably flawless and confident
performance. Some of the forlorn encounters/or dilemmas facing her
character could have tipped her over the edge or mentally damaged her,
but she always seemed to find some sort strength to pull through it.
The rest of the performances are truly fitting. Chris Bauer and Lili
Taylor are outstanding as Irving and Paula Klaw who set-up and
photographed Page's bondage pictures. An impulsive Jared Harris has fun
with his part, and has some amusing scenes with Mol that really open up
her character. Sarah Paulson, Cara Seymour and John Cullum are also
good. Filmed mostly in black and white, Harron presents an ideal period
flavour of the times (the 1950's — sexual repression) and inserts
some provocatively stylised filming techniques and a tuneful jazz
score. Maybe not as outrageous as it could have been (well anyhow it
would be tame by today's standards), but still its quite quirky and
risqué in a tasteful sense with exposing flesh/nudity. Page rightly saw
nothing wrong about what she did, just another expressive art form… but
this did affect her ambitions of becoming a serious actress. The story
does seem to loose its way in the last third, as it's dramatic
structure becomes choppy and briskly concluded. It was an interesting
look at the exploration of sexuality and the growing pop-culture that a
society at the time couldn't understand or come to grips with.

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