“ Genre: Drama / Theatrical Release: 2005 / Director: Mary Harron / Actors: Gretchen Mol, Chris Bauer ... / DVD released 26 September, 2006 at HBO Home Video / Features of the DVD: AC-3, Closed-captioned, Colour, Dolby, DVD-Video, Subtitled, Widescreen, Import, NTSC „
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*This is a film only review*
Released in 2005, this HBO produced film is a biopic of Bettie Page, 50's pinup model who ended up being placed in the middle of an obscentity trial due to her more explicit and, ahem, extreme photographs and films.
Brought up as a conservative Christian in Nashville, Page is the victim of terrible abuse by men before finding her niche in modelling. It starts innocently enough at first, however, in time she enters the world of 'specialist' modelling. Posing for naked and fetish photographs. Employed by an agency who specialise in these images, she in time finds herself embroiled in growing controversy surrounding the assumed immorality of her photographs and films. Meanwhile she is also persuing an acting career, somewhat unsuccessfully, trying to find a successful romantic relationship and also trying to balance her strongly held religious beliefs with the demands of her profession.
Page is excellently played by Gretchen Mol. Despite undergoing some terrible events, she does not present herself as a victim. Sweet but not naive, smart but not conceited - its a difficult balance which is successfully done.
It is incredibly stylishly shot - mainly in black and white but with the old splashes of colour film. It gives a very authentic 50's feel throughout - reminiscent of and with the same level of detail as LA Confidential. The outfits are absolutely stunning, and the whole thing is actually quite beautiful.
The tone of the film is relatively light for a biopic, choosing not to dwell on some quite dark events but surprisingly the film does not really suffer for this. In fact, it just makes it more relevant to our times in a number of ways. For instance, I buy clothes from a number of alternative clothing shops both off and online and there is a clothing 'scene' and style which alludes to the 50's pinup look, all tight skirts, fitted tops, high heels and old school glamour - and lest we forget the clothing styles of Katy Perry and Amy Winehouse. This is proof that aesthetically Page's influence is still present. Also, in an age when you can go to any supermarket newsstands and see more explicit images on the front of the likes of Nuts and Zoo, than Page ever produced is quite sobering and gives a really good reference point.
The end itself comes rather abruptly, a little clichéd and does not go into Page's life following her resignation from modelling - but on contemplation this may be because the director wanted it to be a period piece.
In conclusion, I really enjoyed this film, finding it an interesting insight to sexuality and social attitudes towards women at that time and as experienced by a woman who is strong and knowing. It is a sympathetic portrayal, which a cheeky naughtiness to it although some of the more explicit imagery may go a little beyond what is comfortable.
Betty Page, 50's model and male idol, known for her photos of disgusting immorality, photos that made the young Americans of the day into reckless degenerates, or so said the American government. Page became famous not only for her good looks but mainly for the huge range of bondage photos and videos she made. They caused a storm in America, so much so that a congressional hearing took her employer/photographer to task for sending indecent material through the federal postage system. These days the photos are incredibly tame and are the kind of thing that you could see in an average weekly glossy magazine and not take much notice off.
I knew very little about Betty Page before this film, I had heard of her, knew what she was famous for and that the girlfriend character in the comic turned film The Rocketeer was based completely on the way she looked.
The Notorious Betty Page tells Betty's story, from good college girl student and a wannabe teacher to her rape experience that leads to her heading towards the big city and her attempts to get a job that are the catalyst for her getting into modelling and eventually her fetish catering career.
At that time her naivety stands out, she really didn't seem to understand, or grasp, exactly what it was she was doing or, more intriguingly, how her photos would be viewed by men. Her innocent background was possibly the cause of this, she came from a rural part of America with a small town life, but this seems to be countered by her actions when doing a modelling shoot for an amateur photographer. She surprises him by removing all her clothing when he asked to remove just her bikini type top. He is visibly shocked and tells her he could get arrested for just taking pictures of her completely naked! This is what it was like back then.
TNBP is a film that covers it's subject matter in a way that doesn't try to concentrate to much on Page's career, and therefore be over titillating, but focuses more on the woman herself. This may disappoint those expecting to see a lot of flesh but will please those wanting to see a good film. It avoids falling into the trap of becoming the kind of film that it was probably expected to be, and it is so much better for doing that. I can almost imagine the disgust of male viewers who know of Betty and wanted more nudity and bondage in this, I expected more I have to say. I am so pleased that they didn't do that, I think I would have been the one sighing in disgust if they had gone that way.
TNBP does a very good job of telling her story, how much is factual and how much is dramatised may be up for debate but to tell the truth it doesn't really matter. TNBP gets across the stuff it wants to and does it extremely well, helped by an outstanding performance by Gretchen Mol. She not only manages to put over the essence of a young, innocent girl but also that of a bondage model without either seeming out of place. Even more astounding is that she looks incredibly like Betty Page, so much so that a friend of mine who likes the real Betty thought that the postcards I gave him promoting the film were actually using photos of the real woman, not ones of Gretchen.
This is certainly not a family film, though the nudity is minimal considering the subject it is there. It isn't a Friday night film, or even a 'cuddle on the sofa' film, it is just a very good film that has to be recommended to anyone that likes a top quality movie. It is one that is worthy watching not only for the performance of Gretchen but also for the insight into the 50's counter culture and the bureaucracy that grew from the Governments attempts to censor what it's people could and couldn't see. After the failure of prohibition you would have thought they would have been less heavy handed about it though!
Starring Gretchen Mol, Chris Bauer, and Jared Haris, directed by Mary Harron, written by Guinevere Turner.