call her “notorious.” Bettie Mae Page
was a good Christian and the ultimate girl next door. She just happened to have had a pin-up and
fetish modeling career. Gone but never
forgotten, the late cult icon tells her story for posterity, serving as the
de-facto narrator of Mark Mori’s Bettie
Page Reveals All (trailer
screens as part of the new Midnight section of the 2012 DOC NYC at the IFC
doesn’t recognize those trademark bangs?
The rest of her was pretty distinctive too. Mori illustrates the film with plenty of
Page’s risqué-for-the-time and still somewhat naughty photos. In fact, as per Ms. Page’s wishes, he almost exclusively
shows her as she wished to be remembered.
In the opening minutes, Page relates several incidents from her early
life that could have permanently scarred her and left her completely incapable
of intimacy. Yet, Page was always
comfortable with such matters, particularly when it came to a little topless posing.
Page’s reminiscences, viewers get a peek into a bygone era, when the salaciousness
was more innocent. Page often worked for
“camera clubs,” groups of earnest and impeccably behaved photography
enthusiasts who would slink off on weekends to shoot live (and usually topless)
models. As one might suspect, Page was
one of their favorites, but evidently no funny business ever happened on a
shoot. Yet, it was Irving Klaw’s
specialized mail order photos that made Page’s fame.
Page’s second and third acts were characterized by a series of divorces and a
persistent struggle with mental illness.
Having dropped out of the pin-up world soon after Estes Kefauver’s
grandstanding senate hearings on pornography, Page’s fate was the subject of
wild speculation amongst her fans. She
does indeed deliver, revealing all, but it is often rather sad. Still, Mori deals with it forthrightly, warts
and all, to his credit.
Mori’s overall approach is right on target, giving viewers a good eyeful of
what they want to see. He also puts Page
in proper cultural context, tracing her influence on second rate imitators like
Madonna and Katy Perry—make that third rate imitators—and explaining her role
as graphic novelist Dave “Rocketeer”
Mori makes it clear Page is truly Americana at
its hottest. It is surprising but
fascinating how much seemingly unrelated cultural history finds its way into her
story. Lovingly assembled, Bettie Page Reveals All should
definitely hold the attention of non-fans nearly as well as that of devotees,
which is the real test for documentary profiles. Recommended with affection, it screens late
night this Friday (11/9) as a midnight selection of DOC NYC ’12. For obvious reasons, it is hard to see it
getting much airtime on PBS, so Page admirers should probably see it now.
Labels: Bettie Page, DOC NYC '12, Documentary