The Notorious Bettie Page

Now, where's my gimp mask...

The Notorious Bettie Page

 

Bettie Page was - in case you don't know - a fifties pin-up. You've probably seen her, even if you didn't realise, as many of her "classic" images are found on all sorts of kitsch. If you've ever wander passed an ash tray with a woman with black hair, with a severe fringe, in a leopard print bikini, then that's more than likely Bettie.

 

What we've got with "The Notorious..." is a fairly straight-forward bio-pic. Bettie grows up in Nashville, goes to church and studies hard. She escapes an abusive family by entering into an abusive marriage, leaves that for abusive big city life and finally ends up in New York. That's the early years - dealt with in about 15 minutes - but I suppose that's fair enough, we are expected to know Bettie as a model, and it is at this point where the film effectively begins.

 

Spotted by a photographer while walking on the beach, Bettie starts to pose for photography clubs. Networking with other models she gets more and more work, with the most regular being for a company specialising in fetish photographs. This is pretty tame stuff on the whole, kinky rather than pervy; corsets, boots and a bit of spanking. Yeah, there's a bit of bondage, but the way it's all shown on screen it's either a bit of a lark or mundane and dull. It's all illegal however, and when the law starts knocking on the door Bettie takes a break in Miami.

 

The scenes set in Miami are wonderful and in colour! Yes, while life in a city is monochrome, it's Technicolor (sic) by the sea. There's more modelling in Miami, and a great deal of struggling to begin an acting career in New York, relationship problems (a 1950s boyfriend is never going to understand kinky photos). Finally the modelling ends; there's a Senate investigation into the corrupting nature of the fetish stuff, and besides Bettie is no spring chicken. When the film ends, Bettie has rediscovered church and seems happy enough.

 

The Notorious Bettie Page is a nice little film. It cleverly recreates some of Bettie's most famous shots, and Gretchen Mol looks very like Bettie and plays her as a real innocent. Nowadays, when you are much more likely to encounter more extreme fetishist imagery in straight forward pop videos (I'm not even talking Marylin Manson or Madonna, have you seen what they wear in Pussy Cat Dolls videos, I ask you!), the reaction of the US underground kingdom of kink, (albeit 50 years ago), looks ridiculous. But there again, for a film with three topless scenes (one of which is fully nude) to have an adult only certificate seems a little ridiculous too. Maybe in the UK, the combination of Bettie and spanking is a still a little too kinky.

 

Now, where's my gimp mask...

 

Words: Chris Gibson.