Reviews

The Notorious Bettie Page (2005)

Despite some pulled punches, Mary Harron's comic-inspired biopic captures the naïve yet sultry mystery of the notorious pin-up model.

By Matthew Van Allen
Published November 08, 2006

Director: Marry Harron
Staring: Gretchen Mol
(New Rental Release)

With more and more film loops turning up restored and prettily packaged each year in your local comic shop, you knew that this film was bound to happen sooner or later.

It makes perfect sense that Ms. Mary Harron, who previously directed I Shot Andy Warhol (1996) and American Psycho (2000), would use Ms. Page as her next biopic.

The story focuses on Bettie Page during her legendary run as a 1950s pin-up model, her rise in becoming one of the first, and perhaps most controversial, sex icons in America, and the US Senate investigation based on her infamous bondage photos.

Gretchen Mol, who portraits Bettie Page, is nothing short of astonishing. Her features and mannerisms are eerily similar to the legend and her acting instinctively captures the naïve yet sultry Page. There are moments here where you will honestly want to push pause on your remote and do a Google search to compare the actresses.

It's also cleverly conceived that director Mary Harron chooses to stick with a comic book vs. newspaper-like colour scheme for art direction. She actually goes as far as to film Bettie's New York sleaze (Irvin Claw) shoots in black and white and the California (Bunny Yeager) cover spread photos in colour.

Still, after walking away from this film you can't help but feel that you haven't been presented with a complete account of the story. Perhaps punches were pulled in an attempt to keep much of the mystery surrounding Bettie Page in a shroud.

The film virtually leaves the viewer believing that once the '60s rolled around, Bettie magically disappeared. It is interesting to note that no light is shed upon the fact that despite a very brief arrest in the early '70s, this icon has lived outside of the public eye, or more appropriately a camera lens, for over 40 years.

To see or not to see?

See it. The acting by Gretchen Mol is worthy and at the very least this picture should be viewed for basic curiosity needs. I highly recommend seeking out "The Real Bettie Page," written by Richard Foster, for an extension and clearer vision into this pop culture phenomenon.

Matthew is the RTH film and culture critic. He runs The In Between: Moving Pictures and Culture, which you can find inside Sky Dragon at 27 King William Street.

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