(On TV, July 2017) Much of what is true about Bettie Page of the biopic The Notorious Bettie Page is also true about the documentary Bettie Page Reveals All: Beyond the nude pictures associated with “Queen of the Pin-Ups” Page and the salacious details of her involvement with the earliest generation of men’s magazines, her story is a lens through which to examine America’s moral evolution from the fifties to the twenty-first century, the way celebrities can re-emerge in popular consciousness decades later, or how unlikely some lives can be. That’s certainly the case with Page, who (after rough early years) almost wholesomely started modelling, became a sensation, then left the limelight so thoroughly that, for years, people wondered if she had died. Instead, she did religious work for a while, then had psychological/legal/medical issues for a solid decade until she was rediscovered in the mid-nineties and spent the last decade of her life enjoying a much higher standard of living thanks to long-delayed royalties. Much of the documentary is narrated by Page herself, although a good selection of interviewees also help complete her story. It’s an amazing narrative in many ways, and unlike The Notorious Bettie Page, it goes beyond her years as a pin-up and as a religious worker to talk about the nadir of her life and the years she spent under state supervision for criminal acts. The documentary highlights Page’s creative side (she designed a number of outfits she wore during photo shoots) and her latter-day impact on pop culture. It also shows unpublished photographs, details the issues that her publishers had with the law and goes in quite a bit of detail about Page and everything that surrounded her. Far more than just a documentary excuse to show racy pictures, Bettie Page Reveals All ends up being a definitive statement on an exceptional woman, a fashion/pop icon and a terrific life story.
(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.