The Notorious Bettie Page

The Notorious Bettie Page (2005) movie poster

(2005) dir. Mary Harron
viewed: 04/29/06 at the Clay Theater, SF, CA

Finally got out of the house to see something less kid-friendly. Finally got to a different part of town and to a different theater, too. I miss going to the many small neighborhood theaters that used to somewhat abound in this town. There are a lot less of them these days. Makes me a little aggrieved at myself for contributing to the problem by going to the Metreon so much myself. Ah well.

Bettie Page, 1950’s bondage pin-up queen extraordinaire. The “je ne sais quoi” of her sexiness and character that comes across in her photographs and movies and that haircut, too. She is an icon. And indeed, a very very sexy woman. The irony of her situation, that she is/was a strict Southern Christian who, according to the film didn’t really understand the context of the photographs in which she appeared, really strikes the note of complication about her image and how it is read and what it has come to signify for people.

I am more than willing to bet that there are interesting treatises and papers written for women’s studies or film studies or cultural studies on the issue of her character. The film takes the biographical approach to paint Bettie as I have read in the past that she really is/was, an intelligent and moral Christian who rationalized her nude photography and bondage films and photography as not entirely contrary to her beliefs. Though, after an experience of being “born again”, she moves out of the world of modeling.

According to the film, there is a lot of innocence on her side and even on the side of some of the photographers that she worked with. It’s not the crass and brutal pornography industry that arose in its wake or potentially existed along side of it at the time.

Bettie’s life is an interesting cultural study. I think a documentary might have been a better approach. I mean Gretchen Mol is very good and striking as Bettie, but the narrative of her life is only moderately interesting. It’s not high on drama, really. She is a visual icon and because of the contrast of her character and the use and meaning of her image, it’s almost more theoretically interesting. The film is not bad, just not all that compelling nor enlightening. It adds to the irony of her notoriety, her lack of awareness of it and the lack of meaning beneath the surface.

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