Wednesday, August 02, 2006

THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE - brilliant woman; brilliant movie

THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE is the latest film from the director of cult movie, AMERICAN PYSCHO, Mary Harron. The movie is a biopic of Bettie Page - one of the most famous pin-ups of the 1950s.

The first thing to say is that THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE is a beautifully produced film. Using black and white and colour photography, Harron creates a picture postcard nostalgic vision of the US in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. The sets, costumes and music are all perfect - and for those of us with a bent toward the music of Artie Shaw and Patsy Cline, this is a soundtrack to die for.

Against this background we have Bettie Page herself - brought to life by Gretchen Mol. It's a break-out performance. Mol conveys Page's complex mix of intelligence, religious fervour and sheer unabashed delight in her own naked form. The combination of Bettie's peaches and cream megawatt smile and the bondage gear is devestating.

I also love that Harron resists doing the usual melodramatic rise and fall of the tragic heroine schtick. Bettie does have a horrid upbringing in Nashville, but this is handled discreetly and with sensitivity. At the height of her notoriety she keeps a level, thoughtful head. And when she does give it all up for a life of preaching there is no shock conversion or melo-dramatic renouncement - she simply starts reading the Bible to passers-by. And no, she is not ashamed of what she did - she's just following a different path now. Best of all, Harron avoids the big-drama Congressional Hearing show-down that I feared we were building up to throughout the movie.

Overall then, THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE is a cracking movie. It's always a pleasure to see a strong, beautiful, in-control woman on screen. And it's great to see a textured view both of the religious South and the New York porn industry. Others may patronise Bettie for her apparently simple-minded belief in Jesus, but the movie never does. And while Bettie perhaps got into poses a little racier than she at first realised, there is undoubtedly more overt sexual exploitation in her wholesome childhood town than in the photographic studios of New York.

What more can I say? This is a beautifully produced, fascinating movie about an intelligent, beautiful woman who gains control over her life and happiness. And all without an ounce of Schmaltz.

THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE premiered at Toronto 2005 and went on limited release in the US & Canada in April 2006. It goes on release in the UK on Friday and comes out on Region 1 DVD in September.

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