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BethR

The Notorious Bettie Page

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If this film already has a thread, I can't find it, and I searched three ways.

A few A&F'ers have this film in their viewing journals, and JO blogged about it in April before seeing it. The film's portrayal of Christianity is unusually straightforward, along with its portrayal of just about everything else in Page's life--it earns its R rating for language, nudity, and unusual sexuality, though most of these elements are also presented in such a way that they don't seem particularly sexy. Greg Wright's review at Hollywood Jesus thinks the film definitely deserves a warning for people who have a problem with pornography; I realize that as a woman, I'm not the primary audience for Bettie Page pinups. On the other hand, I think the female writer and director of the film have managed to present a great deal of the story from Bettie's POV, so that she is more the subject than the object of the infamous "male gaze", whereas a different writing/directing team might have taken the easier route in telling her story. Still, perhaps not for everyone. All right--make that definitely not for everyone.

Fine performances by Gretchen Mol as Bettie--really brilliant--John Cullum and Victor Slezak in brief but note-perfect appearances as preachers, Jonathan Woodward as Bettie's boyfriend (one of several), Sarah Paulson as Bunny Yeager, who photographed Bettie's first Playboy pictures, and Lili Taylor as Paula Klaw, part of the brother/sister team who made Bettie a fetish photographic model.

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I thought it was a good film. Gretchen Mol's performance was indeed brilliant, how she captured Bettie Page's naitieve and made her believeable. She captured the duality of a character living a double life, between clean cut in her "off hours" while a sex object "on the job". The cinematography was impressive in how the film looked like it was filmed back in the '50s. I found the "fetish" photos to be more absurd than titillating. Maybe some guys get a rise out of that kind of stuff, but it didn't do anything for me. It's remarkable that Bettie didn't seem to have any idea how men might look at what she was doing. What happened to her in her past really must have affected her. Her faith at the end of the film also came off as sincere, though she was still naive.

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In the interests of thoroughness, David Bruce on the "E! True Hollywood Story" of Bettie Page, with commentary on E!'s censorship of the shocking Christian content.

Thanks for opening this thread, Beth. I just recently saw the film, and share your appreciation. Reflecting on what you've posted, I think the fact that the film was written and directed by women may be a significant factor in why (as crow comments) the film doesn't seem titillating, for all the nudity and "erotic" images - though Greg's caution is still a wise one.

The link you posted above doesn't work for me, but some searching turned up what may be the same content on David's blog.

I've written an entry for my book and posted it (at least in first draft form) over on my blog. And what the heck, I'll post some of my notes on the film, primarily quotes from reviews and some viewing notes with time code.

*

Excerpts from reviews

S&S, Linda Ruth Williams

An innocent abroad, unshockable and willing to give most things a go but anchored by her personal modesty and belief in God. However many clothes she strips off, she never loses her manners or her faith.

The sexual liberalism of TNBP might be a little too easy

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Ron, your notes and your comments on the soundtrack of this film add to my appreciation for it. Thank you. Again, it's not for everyone, but well worth a look.

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Thanks for the link, Darrel. Page led an interesting post-pinup life (as noted in one of the articles linked in a previous post, she studied Bible at Biola). This thread has over 1,000 views, but so few posts! I'll say again, this movie is not for everyone, but it is really well done, may-layered, thoughtful, and (I felt) not intentionally prurient.

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FWIW, Richard Corliss's obituary:

The hallmark of modern pop culture is that everyone's famous and nobody's shocked. And when fans search the past, they look to venerate artists who were once pariahs. The movies of Bettie Page, the actress-model who died Thursday, Dec. 11, at 85 in Los Angeles after a heart attack, couldn't be more infra dig: they were sold under the counter, mailed in plain brown wrappers. Yet decades later she was elevated to the status of pulp goddess. The beatification process began in 1980, when artist Dave Stevens created a Bettie character in his graphic novel The Rocketeer. Jennifer Connelly gave her full-figured life in the 1991 movie version, and the cult was under way. In a 1997 episode of The X Files, there was a talking Bettie Page tattoo, voiced by Jodie Foster.

[ snip ]

Her biopic, The Notorious Bettie Page, begins and ends in religious fervor. The film climaxes with its heroine being born again as a proselytizing Christian. It's an old-fashioned Hollywood resolution that couldn't be further from the sordid truth.

She did indeed become a lay missionary (assisting in a Billy Graham campaign) and spent about a year back at Peabody, to take credits for a Master's degree she never achieved. Fact is, though, her life was much more stable when she was posing for the Klaws' bondage films than it would be in the service of the Lord. In the decade after she left New York, Bettie was wed three times: to the teenager Armond Walterson, again to Billy Neal and finally to Harry Lear, a lineman for Florida Bell. Each marriage ended in divorce. But that was the least of her troubles

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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Here's a link to the piece I ended up writing from all those notes.

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Jonathan Rosenbaum has re-posted his review:

The film hints that Page, who grew up in Nashville, may have been the victim of family abuse, and it makes clear that she was gang-raped. But it tells us nothing about her sex life, before or after her return to religion, which is odd, given that director Mary Harron (
I Shot Andy Warhol
,
American Psycho
), who wrote the script with Guinevere Turner (
Go Fish
), wants to unpack 50s sexual ideology as well as revel in it.

The notion that Page, like Marilyn Monroe, was too ditzy to know what she was doing is more a mythological construct than an observation. As portrayed here, she knows nothing except that she’s attractive, and the only evidence that she’s capable of taking pleasure in sex is the delight she takes in posing. The filmmakers content themselves with a feminist deconstruction of those poses, perhaps because they know it won’t undermine her allure. Like good academics, they also want to come off as nonjudgmental and leave issues open-ended, and to some extent they succeed. Paradoxically they wind up objectifying Page almost as much as the porn industry did — except that now she’s the object of feminist theory instead of male lust. . . .

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