The Notorious Bettie Page

Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner's biography of 1950s erotic icon Bettie Page — an enigmatic beauty who brought her trademark voluptuous curves, jet-black bangs and palpable sense of good-natured fun to cheeky men's-magazine layouts as well as seriously kinky bondage photos — is an oddly lifeless affair, though Gretchen Mol's sunny performance almost...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner's biography of 1950s erotic icon Bettie Page — an enigmatic beauty who brought her trademark voluptuous curves, jet-black bangs and palpable sense of good-natured fun to cheeky men's-magazine layouts as well as seriously kinky bondage photos — is an oddly lifeless affair, though Gretchen Mol's sunny performance almost hauls it out of its doldrums. It opens and closes at crusading Senator Estes Kefauver's notorious 1955 Senate-subcommittee hearings on pornography, where Kefauver (David Strathairn) grills "pinup king" Irving Klaw (Chris Bauer) as Page waits demurely outside for her turn in the hot seat. Vignettes from her Tennessee childhood — a stew of old-time religion, an abusive father and missed opportunities — unfold in flashback. Page quits teachers college because she can't control the ogling boys and flees to New York after a sexual assault. She takes acting classes and pays the bills by modeling for amateur camera clubs, where she discovers a knack for investing naughty poses with an irresistible wholesomeness that makes her hugely popular. Page appears in men's magazines and, later, special-order stills and shorts produced by brother-and-sister team Irving and Paula Klaw (Lili Taylor), who cater to fetishists with the no-nonsense briskness of deli owners. "It takes all kinds," says Paula mildly when Page wonders why anyone would want to see a girl in such bizarre getups. Shot primarily in noirish black-and-white, the film blossoms into glorious color when Page visits sunny Florida and sits for former model Bunny Yeager (Sarah Paulson), who shot both the famous "jungle girl" pictures of Page in a leopard swimsuit and the Playboy centerfold in which she trims a Christmas tree wearing only a Santa hat and a smile. Harron and Turner toy with an underdeveloped theme involving Page's efforts to reconcile shame-based religious teachings and her belief that God made the nude body and invested it with an inherent spark of the divine. But there's only one moment when the conflict threatens to become interesting: Cheerfully dissolute fetish photographer John Willie (Jared Harris), who's got Page in sky-high heels, a ball gag and an elaborate harness of ropes, asks what she was just thinking because an interesting expression had passed briefly over her face. She replies matter-of-factly that she was contemplating the torments God is likely to visit on her for having posed for shots like these. And then the moment passes, and it's back to the clip-job succession of incidents, until Page walks away from Kefauver's courtroom and into underground immortality.

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  • Released: 2006
  • Rating: R
  • Review: Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner's biography of 1950s erotic icon Bettie Page — an enigmatic beauty who brought her trademark voluptuous curves, jet-black bangs and palpable sense of good-natured fun to cheeky men's-magazine layouts as well as seriously ki… (more)

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