Portrait of an American innocent. In 1955, Bettie Page (1923-2008 ) waits to testify before a Senate subcommittee 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
Canadian filmmaker Mary Harron is a cultural gadfly whose previous films laid bare some the artistic excess of the Sixties and the hollow avaricious Eighties. With "The Notorious Bettie Page" she points her unswerving eye at Fifties America, an era cloaked in the moral righteousness of Joe McCarthy, while experiencing the beginnings of a sexual awakening that would result in the free love of the next decade. Harron and her co-writer Guinevere Turner, are clearly not interested in the standard biopic of a sex symbol. This is a film about the underground icon of an era and how her pure unashamed sexuality revealed both the predatory instincts and impure thoughts of a culture untouched by the beauty of a nude body. If the details of Bettie's life were all the film was concerned about, then why end it before her most tragic period was about to begin. Clearly, Harron is more interested in America's attitudes towards sexual imagery then and now. Together with a fearless lead performance by Gretchen Mol and the stunningly atmospheric cinematography of W.Mott Hupfel III, she accomplishes this goal admirably, holding up a mirror to the past while making the audience examine their own "enlightened" 21st Century attitudes towards so-called pornography. As America suffocates under a new conservatism, this is a film needed more than ever.
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