|The Notorious Bettie Page|
|Written by Rich Drees|
With her jet black bangs and aura of innocent-yet-playful sexual charm, Bettie Page not only became a pinup sensation in the 1950s, but has since become something of a feminist icon. But while Page is instantly recognizable to most people, many of those same people would be hard pressed to recount even a single fact about her life.
Beautifully shot in black and white—with occasional sections with oversaturated color that recall many 1950s movies—The Notorious Bettie Page covers the model’s life from her upbringing in Tennessee to the end of her modeling career in 1958. However, by its end, the audience is left with no more knowledge of who Page really was than they walked into the cinema.
Bettie, as portrayed by Gretchen Mol, comes across as innocent, almost naïve, about her sexuality. She is totally comfortable with her body and posing nude, viewing her modeling sessions as nothing more than playful romps. The leather corsets and fetishistic boots she’s given to wear she simply refers to as “costumes.”
But, as photographer Bunny Yeager (played here by Sarah Paulson) states of Bettie, “When she’s nude she doesn’t seem naked.” The same could be said for the movie as well. It shows us a woman who was brought up in a strict southern religious household, yet who has no qualms about posing nude.
In a scene from an S&M photo shoot, Page and photographer John Willie (Jared Harris) briefly discuss this. “God gave me a talent to pose for pictures,” she tells Willie—seemingly oblivious to the fact she is tied spread-eagle standing up. “It makes people happy, so it can’t be a bad thing.”
Even years later, after she had left modeling and undergone a religious awakening, Page remained unapologetic about her past life. However, we never see the process of how she came to reconcile such seemingly disparate elements of her life. Instead, we are left with just a tease about who the real Bettie might have been.
Director Mary Haron (American Psycho) has constructed a portrait of Page that parallels her photos—all surface and no depth. Clocking in at just 90 minutes, the film skims through the events in Page’s life, barely touching on moments that would be touchstone scenes in other bio-pics. Page’s sexual abuse at the hands of her father is so obliquely alluded to that most will miss the reference altogether, while Page’s disastrous first marriage is covered in a thirty second montage.
Instead, the film is more concerned with recreating some of Page’s more famous photo shoots and other public moments of her life. While we see her at various modeling sessions that will yield some of her most famous work, the film rarely digs deep into Bettie’s life, never trying to illuminate her in any way.