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  Notorious Bettie Page, The Say Cheesecake
Year: 2005
Director: Mary Harron
Stars: Gretchen Mol, Chris Bauer, Jared Harris, Sarah Paulson, Cara Seymour, David Strathairn, Lili Taylor, John Cullum, Matt McGrath, Austin Pendleton, Norman Reedus, Dallas Roberts, Victor Slezak, Tara Subkoff, Kevin Carroll, Ann Dowd, Jonathan M. Woodward
Genre: BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Bettie Page (Gretchen Mol) didn't have an easy rise to fame, and when she reached a level of recognition it was amongst a certain type of male. She grew up in Tennessee in a deeply religious family, but even at that early age she not only enjoyed having her photograph taken, but had her sights set on becoming an actress, a career her mother would disapprove of. But it wasn't just Bettie's mother who would disapprove of her vocational choices as she became a model in New York to support herself and ended up doing what in the trade would be called "bondage" photographs. And successful ones, at that.

The real Bettie Page is very much an enigma, someone who looks accessible, friendly and without a mean word to say about anyone in her pictures and films, but actually involved in a seedy industry and a woman who essentially withdrew completely from "public" life to pursue a born again Christian route. Could she really have been as innocent as she appeared? The answer to that question, according to this biopic, is yes, what you saw was what you got with her. She was every bit the rural girl in the big city, and didn't consider the implications of her money making schemes.

Writer, with Guinevere Turner, and director Mary Harron offers a glossy black and white sheen rather than a gritty look to the story, only turning colour at certain sequences, all part of a lovingly rendered faithfulness to the period. A couple of the grimmer aspects of Bettie's life are not ignored although not dwelt upon either, tastefully opting for panning away at the scenes involving her childhood abuse or her gang rape. There's a distinct tension between the darker side of sexuality in the 1950s, almost exclusively male sexuality at that, and the wholesome surface that the American population were aiming for at the time.

As the lead character, Mol is oddly colourless, and not just because she's seen mainly in monochrome. It must be difficult to make such an apparently straightforward, uncomplicated woman interesting onscreen, and Harron relies on her bondage activities, which she didn't look on anything other than a job, to add personality. Bettie became involved with a brother and sister business led by the nervous Irving Klaw (Chris Bauer), assisted by his more realistic sibling Paula (Lili Taylor), and it was through the photographs taken for them that Bettie achieved fame of a sort, or notoriety as the title has it.

She also travelled to Miami to work for former pinup Bunny Yeagher (Sarah Paulson), and in these parts the screen is presented in the full technicolor glow. But the government is watching, and the Klaws find themselves at the heart of an obscenity investigation that puts their living in jeopardy. In these scenes, Bettie is called on to appear, but never takes the stand, nearly making her seem irrelevant. Then there's the religious angle, which is offered with little irony, and by the time Bettie has stopped struggling with her faith and given into it the film looks as if it was a Christian tract disguised as an examination of vintage pornography, which means that there are going to be a lot of disappointed potential viewers out there for one reason or another. Music by Mark Suozzo.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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