The Notorious Bettie Page (2005)

(On Cable TV, July 2017) There’s an obviously voyeuristic appeal in watching a movie about “Queen of Pin-Ups” Bettie Page, but The Notorious Bettie Page takes us beyond nudity to expose us to Page’s unusual joie-de-vivre and how she became a target of the morality wars of the late fifties. Gretchen Mol is rather good as Paige (even though they don’t quite look like each other), carrying much of Page’s reputed vivaciousness on-screen. From a cinematographic perspective, director Mary Harron chooses to shoot the film largely in black-and-white, with occasional colour sequences to underscore various story points. Compared to documentary films about Page, The Notorious Bettie Page effectively dramatizes the high points of her early life, even though much of her story is reduced to a few on-the-nose lines, especially toward the end. (Page reportedly saw the movie, but there are conflicting accounts about her reaction: One of them has her shouting “lies!” while the other has her being pleased and commenting that Gretchen Mol was prettier than she was) This being said, Page fans who are familiar with the second half of her life will be disappointed to see that the film ends far too soon to be considered complete—while the real Bettie Page did turn to a religious life, her life took a turn for the worse from the mid-seventies to the early nineties, landing her in hospital and detention. None of that is in the film, perhaps in-keeping with the film’s desire to focus on Page as an unusual icon of changing morality. Those who want the real story may want to look online, or screen the far more complete 2012 documentary Bettie Page Reveals All. Meanwhile, The Notorious Bettie Page still does have a place as a reasonably accessible dramatization of Page’s early life, but it’s not the entire story … and everyone should know the real story.

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