Saturday, August 6, 2011

Source: Film Comment; May/Jun2004, Vol. 40 Issue 3, p6-6, 1/9p, 1 Black and White Photograph Document Type: Article Subject Terms: *MOTION pictures *MOTION picture producers & directors Company/Entity: KILLER Films Inc. DUNS Number: 933971780 Reviews & Products: BALLAD of Bettie Page, The (Film) NAICS/Industry Codes: 711510 Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers 512110 Motion Picture and Video Production People: PAGE, Bettie HARRON, Mary Abstract: Reports that director Mary Harron will team up with Killer Films to create the movie "The Ballad of Bettie Page," which focuses on the life and crimes of 1950s pin-up icon Bettie Page. Actors appearing in the movie. ISSN: 0015119X Accession Number: 13124982 Database: Academic Search Premier

Bettie Page, the brunette pinup queen with a shoulder-length pageboy hairdo and kitschy bangs whose saucy photos helped usher in the sexual revolution of the 1960s, has died. She was 85. Page, whose later life was marked by depression, violent mood swings and several years in a state mental institution, died last night at Kindred Hospital in Los Angeles, where she had been on life support since suffering a heart attack Dec. 2, according to her agent, Mark Roesler. A cult figure, Page was most famous for the thousands of glossy photographs taken by amateur shutterbugs from 1949 to 1957. The photos showed her in high heels and bikinis or negligees, bondage apparel - or nothing at all. Decades later, those images inspired comic books, fan clubs, websites, commercial products and, in 2005, a film about her life and times, The Notorious Bettie Page.

Credit: Canwest News Service; LOS ANGELES Times

I Shot Bettie Page

Film Comment; May/Jun2004, Vol. 40 Issue 3, p6-6, 1/9p, 1 Black and White Photograph
Document Type:
Subject Terms:
*MOTION pictures
*MOTION picture producers & directors
KILLER Films Inc. DUNS Number: 933971780
Reviews & Products:
BALLAD of Bettie Page, The (Film)
NAICS/Industry Codes:
711510 Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers
512110 Motion Picture and Video Production
PAGE, Bettie
Reports that director Mary Harron will team up with Killer Films to create the movie "The Ballad of Bettie Page," which focuses on the life and crimes of 1950s pin-up icon Bettie Page. Actors appearing in the movie.
Accession Number:
Academic Search Premier

An Innocent Broad

The Notorious
Bettie Page
USA 2005
Buried within the opening shots of The Notorious Bettie Page is some documentary footage of 1950s New York: big city, bright lights, and a cinema advertising The Wizard of Oz. From the bare threads of 1950s pin-up Bettie Page's lurid story, director Mary Harron has woven a cinematic tale that could have been fashioned by Frank Baum himself.
Bettie Page was a brunette in an age of blonde bombshells, and is now a camp icon of 1950s sexuality. She was both prime cheesecake and -- more famously -- goddess to those seeking less mainstream satisfactions. In 1957 she gave her heart to Jesus and disappeared from public life. Then in the 1980s, her back-catalogue of fetish modelling was rediscovered and elevated on to its current kitsch pedestal.
Harron's glorious biopic of the queen of softcore bondage, which focuses on the period up to 1957, could easily have been a retro-romp of epically camp proportions. Instead it is a visually ravishing investigation of a life lived with an innate sense of decorum. Gretchen Mol, walking tall in Page's nine-inch heels, plays the heroine as a demure southern belle (Page was from Tennessee), an innocent abroad, unshockable and willing to give most things a go but anchored by her personal modesty and belief in God. However many clothes she strips off, she never loses her manners or her faith. Mol's subtle performance is a portrait of 'restraint' in more ways than one.
As Harron's film reveals, Bettie Page had two parallel photographic careers. There is the Bettie of mildly racy gentlemen's magazines with titles like Wink, Bachelor and Beauty Parade, their pages filled with bikinied babes saucy with suggestion. On one cover a scantily clad model tosses a pancake, taking kitsch into the kitchen. These girlies smile accommodatingly, look the punters in the eye and make them feel good about what they're doing. As Harron's beautifully detailed photo-shoot scenes indicate, Bettie pulled this off brilliantly and seemed to be having fun, even when she snarls or poses with leopards for the photographer and model Bunny Yeager (who got Bettie her only Playboy centrefold in 1955). Then there is the Bettie who hooked up with photographer-distributor double act Irving and Paula Klaw. The Klaws took Bettie under their wing and introduced her to the world of fetish for which she is now more famous, supplying 'naughty' material for (then) underground tastes. "Shoes and boots, boots and shoes - can't get enough of them," exclaims Paula to the initially incredulous Bettie.
Harron's film shows other Betties, too: God-fearer, aspiring Method-tutored actor -- but, surprisingly, rarely an exploited victim. Once Bettie has departed a grey Tennessee of abusive fathers and gang-rapists, her world is all good clean fun. Harron makes great play with cinematic and pop-cultural quotations, the Wizard of Oz touchstone allowing her to switch headily between noirish monochrome and melodramatic colour. At one point a live-action Bettie jiggles and wiggles within a still magazine frame whose cover asks "Are Sex Dreams Normal?" The meticulously crafted ambience is filtered through genre-inflected visuals: as Bettie poses with leopards for Yaeger, the colour burns with Sirkian intensity. Even the noirish, black-and-white styling of 1940s and 1950s New York takes on the racy panache of a fast-paced policier, accompanied by a rinky-dink soundtrack supplied by Artie Shaw and Charlie Mingus. Bettie smiles her way through a bebop fantasy: more Oz than Gotham, this New York is a place where some dreams come true.
If there's a villain, it's Senator Estes Kefauver, who leads hearings into whether pornography causes juvenile delinquency. The prosecution's evidence is far more salacious -- exploitative, even -than the 'honest' goings-on in the Klaws' industry, and is peppered with absurdities: "Communism will never defeat America," says a priest. "It's something from within." By contrast, the world of the fetish producers comes across as a haven of support and camaraderie: models look after each other, and the Klaws function as room-and-pop figures. It helps that the Klaws are played by Chris Bauer and Lili Taylor, the latter a Harron veteran who starred as Valerie Solanas in I Shot Andy Warhol (1996). Jared Harris, who played Warhol in that film, is hilarious as dissolute British fetish photographer John Willie.
But the sexual liberalism of The Notorious Bettie Page might be a little too easy. Over a montage of a semi-naked Bettie frolicking in the surf, Yaeger's voice reads the accompanying magazine copy, highlighting the model's enjoyment of her own naturalness: she is "nude but not naked". In a sense Harron's whole film takes its cue from these words, offering the justification of wholesomeness in its contention that Bettie did what she did because it felt good and she hoped it helped people. I'm not wishing exploitation on Bettie (though she surely earned less than the Klaws), but aren't we becoming tired of nostalgia movies about the sex industry that view the pre-video past as a world of happy families and consensual pleasures? The Super 8-style home movies here of country-house romps (showing the Klaws shooting titles like Sally's Punishment and Second Initiation of the Sorority Girl to the accompaniment of Peggy Lee's 'It's a Good Day') are funny and heartwarming. But the notion that back then fashions were cooler, sex was hotter and everyone looked after each other is wearing a bit thin. Films such as Boogie Nights and Inside Deep Throat presented the 1960s and 1970s sex industries as the happy fumblings of a cottage enterprise; in Harron's film the 1950s fetish scene is represented as the triumph of the little man's championing of an 'it takes all sorts' attitude. It's entertaining, but there's a whiff of 'over the rainbow'.
The Notorious Bettie Page is not the first biopic of this much-loved icon, and it probably won't be the last. Bettie Page: Dark Angel (2004) was a straight-to-DVD account of the last three years of Page's career, but neither that film nor Harron's probes her self-imposed exile. (Page is now 83, and publicity-shy; she reportedly didn't know anything of her post-1960s rediscovery until it was well under way.) Rather than conjecturing about psychological motivation and damage, or about the post-fame years, Harron takes her good-natured heroine at face value and reads her story in the context of national sexual prejudice as well as underground sensual pleasure. This means that in spite of the lurid subject matter, the narrative is slight: Bettie moves from tough beginnings to sexual celebrity, and then to God (her 'Emerald City/return to Kansas' moment) via a bit-part in a senatorial investigation.
Bettie Page circa 1955 suggests one formation of American sexuality; Bettie Page for the 1990s and beyond, quite another. By the time Madonna donned a cone-bra, Page had become a commodity of postmodern sexual nostalgia, combining the illusion of an innocent prelapsarian sexuality with sharp 1950s stylings and lashings of innuendo which, courtesy of mainstream borrowers like Jean-Paul Gaultier and the Skin Two brigade, had become freshly cool. Harron's clever movie manages to bypass all that while having fun with the styles and the sounds: the mood music is pitch-perfect, the design--from the most inconspicuous lampshade to Bettie's corsets--impeccable.
But this Bettie is more a product of cinema history than a sexual pioneer out-of-time. Perhaps the Wizard of Oz references signal Harron's own movie-nostalgia; perhaps she simply figured out that Judy Garland and Page were born within a year of each other and that Page's 1930s Nashville must have felt a bit like Dorothy's monochrome Kansas. Page is compared to peroxided sex icons Monroe and Mansfield, but Garland might be a more appropriate alter ego, particularly given her own reinvention by camp. Harron's heroine makes several attempts to break through to mainstream acting, failing a stage audition when the producer recognises her as "the notorious Bettie Page". Given different circumstances, the film implies, Bettie might have become Judy, and Judy Bettie.
Asked--while posing spreadeagled in bondage--"What do you think Jesus would say about this?", Bettie displays a wide-eyed ingenuousness befitting Dorothy: "God gave me the talent to pose for pictures, and it seems to make people happy." The Notorious Bettie Page may be nothing but a series of beautiful poses, but audiences will be more than happy with the result. As Julie London croons 'Gone with the Wind' over the final credits, this latter-day Dorothy Gale is blown beyond the moment she came to epitomise. Harron's sweet-natured model, buffeted by fortune, finally discovers there's no place like home.
Director Mary Harron on the mysticism of erotica
One of the things people have had a hard time dealing with about the film is that it uses some of the stylistic elements of 1950s melodrama but at the same time I didn't want to tell the story in that heightened, structured way that a melodrama would, with a huge rise and a fall. I wanted a more modern, realistic narrative so that things don't really tie up and motivation isn't always clear. The storytelling and the style are in contradiction.
The film is not really a biography; it's the story of the photographs of Bettie. In terms of her life we decided to concentrate on her 1950s heyday as a model as opposed to telling the complete story. It's the tale of a girl who expresses herself through photographs, who finds a great happiness through being photographed. In that sense, it's not necessarily erotic. I don't think Bettie was asexual, but it was more that we were doing it as a 1950s movie so all the sex had to be offscreen. But there was also the feeling that if we were focusing on her as an image and her life through images, her own sex life would get in the way: it might have confused the issue. This film is not about how the audience is looking at her and getting excited about that image; it's about capturing her performance, which is more mystical. I think her sense of being photographed was an experience of religion.
PHOTO (COLOR): AS GOD MADE HER: However many clothes Bettie strips off, she never loses her manners or her religious faith. The subtle performance of Gretchen Mol, left and above, is a portrait of 'restraint' in more ways than one
By Linda Ruth Williams

The Immortal Bettie Page

Long before dita von teese donned Lucite heels and stripped down to her bejeweled, barely there underthings, there was Bettie Page: the former secretary from Tennessee black bangs cut short, lips painted matte red popped up in lad mags and pinup posters in 1951, her bustier-and-whip ensembles becoming a symbol of the era's sexual repression and a major influence on fashion, underpinnings and otherwise.
Page, who died Thursday at 85, started out covering up her curves modeling furs, that is but became a locker-door standard by shimmying into bondage gear for the brother-and-sister photographers Irving and Paula Klaw. Clad in black bustiers, often brandishing a whip, Page was both fierce and demure, a happy dominatrix whose appeal was in her ability to seem both utterly unattainable and girl-next-door sweet (if the girl-next-door wore six-inch stilettos and a sheer red chiffon bathrobe, as Page did in one infamous shot).
Throughout the early Fifties, she shot dozens of short films and hundreds of saucy centerfolds, many for magazines with names like Wink and Eyeful (according to Von Teese's book Fetish and the Art of the Teese, Page holds a title for more magazine appearances than Marilyn Monroe and Cindy Crawford combined. ) There were the Jungle Bettie photos, in which Page posed with zebras and hung from a tree wearing a one-shouldered leopard-print bodysuit, fingers curled into a claw; the 1954 movie Varietease, in which she was poured into a sequin halter bra and filmy harem pants; Page on the beach, wearing a white bikini trimmed with black embroidery. Many of Page's costumes were surprisingly chic in their simplicity, but her fame was cemented by a 1955 Playboy centerfold she was one of its earliest Playmates in which she wore nothing at all (save for a little red Santa cap).
Page abruptly quit the modeling business in 1957, moved to Florida and went through two divorces before landing in Southern California, where she lived up until her death (rarely appearing in public and refusing to be photographed). While she no doubt influenced lingerie designers during her heyday she frequently wore a structured bullet bra with seamed stockings, a combo both elegant and titillating her impact on fashion was truly made in the last few decades. In the early Eighties, comic book illustrator Dave Stevens invoked Page and her retro glamour in The Rocketeer (the hero's girlfriend is based on Page), fan clubs sprouted around her cult cheesecake films, and pop stars and actresses began to take on her signature look (a recent burst of attention came courtesy of Mary Harron's 2006 biopic The Notorious Bettie Page, starring Gretchen Mol). Certainly Madonna, whose 1992 book, Sex, shot by Steven Meisel, featured the singer high-heeled and all tied up, owes a thing or two to Miss Page; likewise late-Nineties Gwen Stefani, with her bikini tops and trimmed bangs; so, too, the revived rockabilly music movement of the late Eighties, whose followers snapped up cinched-waist dresses and bustiers from every resale bin around. Katy Perry is practically a dead ringer for the pinup, with her curled jet-black coif and short-shorts. And the aforementioned Von Teese, who, with her Swarovski-studded push-up bras, has made a career treading the naughty-but-nice territory that Page forged.
Designers, of course, have also sought inspiration in the star's brief but image-rich career, from Dolce & Gabbana and Vivienne Westwood to Agent Provocateur. There's even a Bettie Page Clothing collection, featuring nipped-waist, full-skirted dresses with names like Party Time (the line's flagship is, not surprisingly, in Las Vegas). It's a sad day, but business is very good, Tatyana Khomyakova, the company's founder, said on Friday. The retro look is popular right now, and girls, they like to look elegant but also very sexy, and Bettie represented that. Even if she is more famous without the clothes.
PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Jungle Bettie, photographed in Africa in the Fifties.
PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): An iconic shot of Page in 1955.
PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Gretchen Mol as Page in the 2006 film The Notorious Bettie Page.
By Sarah Haight

Gretchen Mol.

Gretchen Mol, Chris Bauer, Lili Taylor
Today most of pin-up girl Bettie Page's photos wouldn't be considered racy enough for the cover of Maxim. But in the 1950s, her provocative poses, some in leather bondage outfits or no clothes at all, inspired a cult following and prompted a Senate investigation into pornography. It all seems like much ado about nothing to Page (Mol), who explains, "We're just dressing up. There's no harm in it."
Good for her, but bad for audiences. Yes, Mol admirably has Page's poses-pert, haughty, sexy, saucy-down cold. However, without much conflict about Page's so-called "notorious" line of work, the film often shuffles along as if director and cowriter Mary Harron (American Psycho) were shackled in Page's bondage gear herself. Look for a cameo by David Strathairn, who, in an eerie counterpoint to his turn as McCarthyism-battling Edward R. Murrow in Good Night, and Good Luck, plays morality crusader Sen. Estes Kefauver. (R): [2 stars]
PHOTO (COLOR): Mol's portrayal is only skin-deep.

Where Can I Get This?

Mary Harron; USA 2005; Icon Home Entertainment/Region 2; Certificate 18; 90 minutes; Aspect Ratio 16:9 anamorphic; Features: audio commentary with Mary Harron, co-writer Guinevere Turner and Gretchen Mol, 'Presenting Bettie Page' short, cast interviews, theatrical trailer
Film: Anchoring this smart if slender biopic as Bettie Page, America's S&M pin-up of the repressed 1950s, Gretchen Mol brings an unforced and sunny innocence to a retro-styled tale. Harron's insistence on Page's saintly sauciness and the family values of the fetish photobook circuit (pornographers haven't been this cosy since Boogie Nights) may grate on some viewers, but the film's mix of visual styles has real charm and wit as it skips happily from noirish or home-movie monochrome for the New York sequences to a garish Health & Efficiency Technicolor for Page's breezy nudist spreads.
Disc: A pretty transfer, packaged with the usual up-tempo cast interviews. The one interesting oddity is an original Bettie Page striptease short, which shows off the homemade production values of 50s period porn. (S&S August 2006)

In Passing

Bettie Page, 85, pin-up girl. The busty model who posed for bondage movies and magazines in the 1950s became a cult celebrity decades later. She appeared in publications such as Wink and Whisper after failing to build a Broadway career. She was commemorated in the 2006 feature film The Notorious Bettie Page.
Stephen Roth, 67, entertainment executive. As a movie producer, he oversaw many Canadian-made films from the 1970s to the 1990s, among them In Praise of Older Women and Joshua Then and Now. He was a co-founder of a film production and broadcast group later known as Alliance Atlantis, at which he was the first CEO. He later worked as a venture capitalist and film project developer.

Mcleans Magazine