The Notorious Bettie Page


Features, Film, Review | by — August 2, 2006


by Marko Domazet

Bettie Page. The icon. The bad girl. The dark angel. The story of a woman whose face is more iconic than that of Kate Moss has finally reached the silver screen and boy, it’s long overdue. Fortunately the good folks at Icon had the exquisite taste to throw some cash at the problem, and hey presto, a fabulous film has arrived.

An aesthetic firecracker, The Notorious Bettie Page tells the story of the infamous glamour/S&M model’s rise to fame and the turnabout that resulted in her being made a scapegoat in a state investigation into pornography. Throw in some pop culture references, a few jokes and some deviant sexual behaviour and you’ve got a spectacle worth escaping the hot summer nights for.

Generally, biopics tend to be rather tricky, as you never know if they are more concerned with telling a true story or cashing in on an interesting character by weaving a few little white lies into the plot. With The Notorious Bettie Page in particular, these are important questions to ask, mainly when one considers that there isn’t a great deal of information about Miss Page. Most of her photographic work was destroyed and although the lady herself is still alive and whipping, she has maintained a dignified secrecy. In other words, the lady is a recluse. So where do you begin when telling the story of Bettie Page?

After watching the film, I think this must have been one of the film’s biggest problems and some confusion is evident in the way the story is executed. The script itself is fine and flows nicely, but the visual aesthetics constantly switch from high-camp 16mm or Technicolour extravaganzas to a black and white character study. Sure, individually they are wonderful, but the end result is inconsistent.

Gretchen Mol makes an amazing job of the physicality of Page, but also brings a wholesome innocence to the character that is bound to result in a film award or two. In fact, choosing the naturally uber-blonde Mol as opposed to more obvious actresses, was a stroke of genius. The woman has a Julianne Moore-esque ability to turn into a blank canvas and va va voom her way through the film. The supporting cast, Lili Taylor in particular, put in excellent performances.

The only big problem I had with the film was the rushed ending. I can’t decide whether I was expecting The Notorious Bettie page to go out with a bang, in which case feeling this way is my fault because I’ve overdosed on too many old school Hollywood films, or if the ending really was rushed. All I know is that I wasn’t ready for Bettie to take that final bow. I can’t wait for her to join me and the rest of the gals in my DVD collection. Vavavoom indeed.

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