The Notorious Bettie Page

September 1st, 2007 DVD Reviews, Empire, Film

When Jenna Jameson’s tell-all autobiography How to Make Love Like a Porn Star revealed she’d been sexually assaulted as a teenager, anti-porn crusaders pounced, claiming it was proof that porn was both the progenitor and result of sexual violence.

According to The Notorious Bettie Page, the 50s pinup also endured an early life of sexual abuse, yet turned out of history’s first sex symbols. It was just one more paradox that made Page as fascinating as she was.

Played by one-time it girl Gretchen Mol, sweetly naíve Bettie’s attitude to nudity is liberal even by today’s standards, but what makes her both unfathomable and so magnetic is maintaining moral decency that borders on parody — calling people ‘ma’am’ and ‘sir’ and firm in her belief the men buying pictures of her in full bondage regalia are probably really nice folks.

Conflicted enough about what she does to eventually give up modelling for God, Bettie’s ironically the only one with her head on straight about it. As she tells one of a series of a boyfriends who don’t understand ‘it’s just costumes’.

The authorities didn’t agree, using material featuring Page shot by her longtime collaborators (brother and sister photography team Irving and Paula Klaw) to launch a Senate campaign against pornography.

Mol is luminous as the sweet and cheeky Page, a wholesome and too-trusting southern gal both loving the attention heaped on her and as bewildered by it as everyone else.

But here’s the most interesting thing about the movie; there’s hardly a word of swearing (in fact, Bettie scolds a colleague for the language in a bawdy song), no blood, no violence, hardly even a raised voice, yet the film’s rated MA. Have we really come so far in 50 years?

DVD extras

A two-minute clip of a strip by the real Bettie is an interesting but very light historical piece. Considering the amount of material about her there must be around, it’s unforgivable if you’re a fan of Bettie herself, antique porn or the current burlesque craze.


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