With those expressive eyes and that wide, joyous smile (“She smiled with her whole body,” arrests one of her photographers); with that perfect figure, that air of poise and relaxation, those stupendous self-designed, self-made bikinis and lingerie; with that go-for-broke approach to bondage, that easy confidence, and those bangs (oh, those bangs), Bettie Page cultivated a persona whose influence is impossible to measure. Her enduring, singular allure, exuding both playfulness and empowerment, certainly surpasses that of any other pin-up model. You could make a film just about that allure, its mystery, how it continually hits some sweet spot in the minds (and loins) of viewers of whichever gender or sexual preference. Or you could make a film about Page’s fascinating and mostly troubled biography. It too is mysterious, with Page retiring from modelling at 34 and disappearing for decades after. Mark Mori’s Bettie Page Reveals All, founded in a series of audio interviews Mori undertook with Page before her death in 2008, attempts to tackle both of these subjects, but it does so amateurishly, with ample affection and little genuine empathy or understanding. The material couldn’t be more potent, but the artistry is fumbling.
From Hugh Hefner to Bunny Yeager, every interview subject in Bettie Page Reveals All speaks of Page’s magnetism, professionalism and good nature, and most especially her way of radiating healthy sexuality. There are subjects who speak with great respect for Page’s own robust libido and gifts as a lover. All of which feels absolutely right, yet there is a shadow side to this, something that Mori allows mention of yet, in his filmmaking, seems to barley register: Page’s molestation at the hands of her “sex fiend” father; her first marriage, which ended with her husband’s return from the Second World War “a jealous maniac;” a horrific gang rape; and later in her life, the religious zeal, the voice of God speaking to her, the years spent in an institution and in meagre finances, without royalties from the endless reproductions of her work or likeness. It isn’t that the film need focus exclusively on the sordid aspects of Page’s life, but to relegate them to something akin to footnotes feels almost perverse, oblivious to causality—these bad experiences made Page just as much as the good ones.
Given the absence of images of Page post-retirement (save one affecting mug shot), the wrongly titled Bettie Page Reveals All is comprised of archival stills and movies of Page’s work, poorly shot talking heads, and an abysmally literal-minded use of stock images, accompanied by inappropriate, boilerplate music, some of which sounds like it was lifted from some TV thriller, some of which was actually composed specially for the film by Gary Guttman (Mega Babies, Skeleton Warriors: Bad to the Bone). Page tells her story in an arresting, wizened drawl, and Mori illustrates it unimaginatively, without any sense of momentum or pause for insight. No doubt Mori adores Page. And the parade of images of her work, the best thing about the film, is hardly difficult to look at for 100 minutes. Intensely sexy, always inventive, tinged with the residue of a life so much more complicated, those stills and movies tell a story in themselves.
Fri, Jan 24 – Wed, Jan 29
Directed by Mark Mori
Metro Cinema at the Garneau