Portrait of an American innocent. In 1955, Bettie Page (1923-2008) waits to testify before a U.S. Senate sub-committee investigating the effects of pornographic material on American adolescents and juveniles. In flashbacks, we see her childhood in Tennessee, a brief marriage, a gang rape, and her going to New York City in 1949. There she takes acting lessons, models for photos, and acts in short films for adults, earning the nickname "The Pin-Up Queen of the Universe". We see her relationship with merchants Irving and Paula Klaw, photographers John Willie and Bunny Yeager, boyfriends, and the public. Through it all, she is wholesome, sporting and forthright - Eve before the fall.Written by
If this film strikes you (as it did us and, apparently, others departing the theater) as disappointingly thin, it may be because the subject herself is mildly disappointing. The film faithfully presents us Bettie Page as she probably was: a playful almost-innocent from the rural South whose career as "the pinup queen of the universe" was for her just goofy, natural fun. Her eventual moral qualms, religious conversion and sudden departure from nude and bondage modeling are biographically accurate, yet hard to understand given how untroubled she seemed by her livelihood.
There are many reasons to see this film even so, not least of which are the amazing b&w noir cinematography of W. Mott Hopfel III (complete with old fashioned wipes and dissolves), the 1950's-faithful acting of the cast under the direction of Mary Harron, pitch-perfect performances by some of our most underrated supporting actors (including Chris Bauer, Lili Taylor, Sarah Paulson, Austin Pendleton, Dallas Roberts and Victor Slezak), not to mention the Oscar-worthy and technically difficult lead performance of Gretchen Mol.
Ms. Mol does several scenes fully naked and most others in amazing period lingerie and "specialty" costumes (gloriously assembled by costume designer John A. Dunn), yet she astonishingly maintains Bettie Page's unstudied pleasure in her lush body. To watch Ms. Mol as Ms. Page, an aspiring actress, progressing through degrees of progressively less "bad" auditions and student acting scenes is to see a truly fine actress in complete control of her craft.
The script does effectively bring us into 1950's America, where childhood sexual abuse, lawless abduction and rape, and the legal suppression of brands of pornography which today seem laughably tame, is a reality. 50's New York is evoked with seamlessly-inter cut news reel footage. 50's Miami comes alive in super-saturated, 16mm-style color. The real Bettie Page seems to scamper, smile and pose before us, and yet the effect is curiously lightweight, barely lewd and not at all dangerous.
How odd that bondage's greatest icon should be so lacking in venom, and that this technically excellent biopic should have so little sting.
90 of 106 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
| Report this