Notorious Bettie Page

Notorious Bettie Page

4.2 4
Director: Mary Harron

Cast: Gretchen Mol, Christopher Bauer, Jared Harris

     
 

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Celebrated and vilified in equal measure, the pinup goddess Bettie Page inspired a legion of followers -- and an indecency scandal -- by appearing in a series of nude, sado-masochistic, and/or revealing magazine spreads in the 1950s. An era later, writer/director Mary Harron casts a knowing eye upon the womanSee more details below

Overview

Celebrated and vilified in equal measure, the pinup goddess Bettie Page inspired a legion of followers -- and an indecency scandal -- by appearing in a series of nude, sado-masochistic, and/or revealing magazine spreads in the 1950s. An era later, writer/director Mary Harron casts a knowing eye upon the woman who indirectly gave birth to modern pornography in the biopic The Notorious Bettie Page. As a teen, Page (Gretchen Mol) is a smart, plucky girl with ambitions beyond her Tennessee roots. Suffering varying degrees of abuse from her father, her first husband, and suitors of dubious virtue, Page makes her way to New York City, where an amateur photographer discovers her lounging on the beach. It isn't long before images of the shapely brunette reach Irving and Paula Klaw (Chris Bauer and Lili Taylor), brother-and-sister entrepreneurs who publish illicit magazines dedicated primarily to men's fetishes. The casual nudist Page eventually finds herself acquiescing to their requests to don thigh-high boots, whips, and chains, which raise the ire of the smut-fearing senator Estes Kefauver (David Strathairn). The Notorious Bettie Page had its North American premiere at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival.

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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Ed Hulse
Bettie Page, the '50s pin-up queen who became a bona fide pop-culture icon more than 20 years after she posed for her last picture, is a perfect subject for a biopic. Director Mary Harron’s film chronicles the story of this former schoolteacher turned fetishist icon, who later finds herself targeted by a censorious Senate investigation. While displaying the requisite abandon during scenes of the fetching model plying her trade, Gretchen Mol’s touching performance makes believable Page’s shifts from conservative southern gal to bondage model to eventual spiritual convert. Nicely limned supporting turns are contributed by Chris Bauer (as the beleaguered porn producer Irving Klaw), Lili Taylor (as Paula, Klaw’s no-nonsense sister), Sarah Paulson (as veteran glamour photographer Bunny Yeager), and David Strathairn (as the headline-grabbing Senator Estes Kefauver).The real Bettie’s girl-next-door appeal and cheeky sense of humor may be best shown in a silent, three-minute film clip, circa 1952, included here, in which she demurely strips in preparation for bed. Badly lit and shakily shot, the clip speaks to the “accessibility” that made, and has kept, Page a uniquely American celebrity.
All Movie Guide - Nathan Southern
Two fascinating ironies lie at the core of bondage queen Bettie Page's life, which Mary Harron explores to varying degrees (and with corresponding levels of success) in her film The Notorious Bettie Page. The first involves the fact that this model began life by enduring tumultuous and shattering early years -- so shattering that they made her career as a pinup queen something of a vacation. If this movie is to be believed, Page experienced: sexual abuse as a child, an abusive marriage, and a gang-rape in the back of a car by five or six young men, into which she was tricked by being propositioned for a casual date with a stranger. When Bettie gravitates toward nude modeling and light bondage photography, then, it hardly seems a traumatic experience given all that has come before. As well as she is treated by Irving Klaw and sister Paula, and later by photographer Bunny Yeager (three of the most affable characters in the film), one cannot blame Bettie for posing. Harron is using as a springboard the viewer's prejudicial assumption that nude modeling would be a demeaning and objectifying experience (the model as the photographer's object of seduction) and gradually defacing this assumption in Bettie's case. By creating tonally empathetic, kind, and considerate characters in the Klaws, their hired photographers, and Yeager, Harron is able to wisely draw a contrast between Bettie's torrid pre-modeling victimization and the easy-as-baby-food photo shoot experiences. And yet, even though Harron climbs inside of this irony, she doesn't go far enough; she remains so intent on retaining a light, gleefully amusing and inoffensive tone from one end of the picture to another that it causes her to gloss over the nastiness of Bettie's early years. This is one film that could benefit, dramatically, from the gutsy decision to become crasser and more graphic, to make palpable for the audience the grimy filth and humiliation of Bettie's molestation, spousal abuse, and sexual assault, thus drawing an even more vivid contrast between these events and the modeling. Harron evokes the second irony of Bettie's life story more effectively; it involves the film's revelation of Bettie's almost preadolescent naïveté toward S&M posing. By the film's end, we understand how bondage photography could mean "trying on silly costumes" for Bettie but simultaneously spell death for an innocent young man (as a father's testimony in one of the final court scenes reveals). On this level, the film benefits from a surprisingly apolitical and even-handed treatment of the Estes Kefauver-led senatorial "crackdown on smut." In the aforementioned court sequence, Harron explores the logic behind Senator Kefauver's crusade (the film brings the audience to its knees with the paternal confession), and the director courageously resists trashing Kefauver. Harron's treatment of Bettie's conversion to Christianity is similarly respectful (if clichéd). Unfortunately, the film suffers from a lack of a strong character arc throughout -- which is why Bettie's turn away from posing, at the end of the picture, retains such dramatic force; the omission of a better-defined transition throughout Bettie's life significantly drains the picture of dramatic power and momentum. Such is the film's greatest weakness. As for its strengths, Harron and lead Gretchen Mol somehow convey Page's innocence so thoroughly that the film's recreations of the Bunny Yeager nude stills come across as unadulterated celebrations of the female body -- so pure and unfettered that we feel like an angel has disrobed before us, and find ourselves subconsciously overlooking Bettie's birthday suit. It is a mystifying accomplishment. (How did the filmmakers pull this off?) Equally admirable is cinematographer W. Mott Hupfel III's ability to somehow capture the look (in movie form) of old black-and-white '50s photographs and (in the film's Miami sequences) early Kodachrome snapshots, with their heightened primary colors. Overall, Harron has created an interesting, if flawed, work, and a worthy addition to the overlooked cinematic canon of obscure period biopics -- much as she did with her debut, 1996's I Shot Andy Warhol. But, in the final analysis, the film feels vapid and empty, like a hand reaching for something elusive and grasping only air.

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Product Details

Release Date:
09/26/2006
UPC:
0026359329524
Original Release:
2005
Rating:
R
Source:
Hbo Home Video
Region Code:
1
Time:
1:30:00

Special Features

Closed Caption; Audio commentary with Gretchen Mol, writer/director Mary Harron (American Psycho) and writer Guinevere Turner; An inside look at the "Pin-up Queen of the Universe"; Theatrical trailer; Presenting Bettie Page: a provocative performance, starring Bettie herself

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Gretchen Mol Bettie Page
Christopher Bauer Irving Klaw
Jared Harris John Willie
Sarah Paulson Bunny Yeager
Cara Seymour Maxie
David Strathairn Senator Estes Kefauver
Lili Taylor Paula Klaw
Jonathan M. Woodward Marvin
John Cullum Preacher In Nashville
Matt McGrath Nervous Man
Austin Pendleton Teacher
Norman Reedus Billy Neal
Dallas Roberts Scotty
Victor Slezak Preacher In Miami
Tara Subkoff June
Kevin Carroll Jerry Tibbs
Ann Dowd Edna Page
Michael Gaston Mr Gaughan
Jefferson Mays Little John
Peter McRobbie Gengel
Dan Snook Mr Grimm
Greg Ainsworth Man On Street
John Boyd Jack
David Call Guy 1 At Party
Geoffrey Cantor Director At Audition
Max Casella Howie
Alejandro Chaban Armand
Jaymie Dornan Young Jimmy Page
Teddy Eck Charlie
Jack Gilpin Roy Page
Dan Haft Photographer 1
Lars Hanson Detective Farrell
Daniel Haughey Battle
Frank Hopf Jack Kramer
Ed Jewett Bookstore Owner
Aaron Lazar Jake
Alexandra Leclair Young Goldie
Heather Litteer Model
Gary Lundy Guy 2 At Party
Edmund Lyndeck Father Egan
Marisa Malone Drunken Woman At Party
Shelly Mars Photographer 2
Christopher McCann Dr Henry
Randy Miles Photographer 3
Molly Moore Young Bettie
Joe Mosso Art
James J. Pollock Court Official
Naelee Rae Young Love
Alicia Sable Goldie
Ean Sheehy Director At Screen Test
Kohl Sudduth Police Officer
Ashley Terrill Marion
Hans Tester Producer At Screen Test
Benjamin Walker Jim
Michael Boydston-White Choir Singer
Mark Suozzo Conductor

Technical Credits
Mary Harron Director,Executive Producer,Screenwriter
Thomas Ambrose Art Director
Kerry Barden Casting
Michael Berg Camera Operator
P.J. Bloom Musical Direction/Supervision
Linda Burk Consultant/advisor
Tricia Cooke Editor
Lori Keith Douglas Co-producer
John Dunn Costumes/Costume Designer
Billy Hopkins Casting
Mott Hupfel Cinematographer
Pamela Koffler Executive Producer
Kevin Kropp Set Decoration/Design
Brian Miksis Sound/Sound Designer
Dani Minnick Consultant/advisor
Evelyne Noraz Makeup
Gideon Ponte Production Designer
Gordon Ponte Production Designer
Katie Roumel Producer
Suzanne Smith Casting
Wyatt Sprague Sound/Sound Designer
Jonathan Starch Asst. Director
Mark Suozzo Score Composer
Guinevere Turner Executive Producer,Screenwriter
Christine Vachon Executive Producer
Mark Weber Sound Mixer
John Wells Executive Producer

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Scene Index

Disc #1 -- Notorious Bettie Page
1. Sin [7:49]
2. Love and Marriage [8:00]
3. A Fresh Start [8:04]
4. Adam and Eve [9:29]
5. A Special Customer [11:25]
6. Home Movies [4:34]
7. What Would God Think? [9:55]
8. The Senators [7:12]
9. Testimony [9:12]
10. A Lifting Up [6:10]
11. Alpha and Omega [3:03]
12. End Credits [5:38]

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