The film opens with the Senate pornography hearings of the 1950s, which cracked down on bondage-movie purveyor Irving Klaw. As Bettie Page (Gretchen Mol) waits to be called to testify, she flashes back to the events that brought her to this point. After an abusive childhood in Tennessee, a failed marriage and a gang rape, she flees to New York, where she becomes first a glamour model, and eventually the most highly sought-after bondage queen.
Director Mary Harron returns to her bel…ved world of cultural misfits that she observed so lovingly in I Shot Andy Warhol. Her frequent collaborator, screenwriter Guinevere Turner redeems herself here after an unfortunate outing with Uwe Boll (BloodRayne). Gretchen Mol, meanwhile is so utterly convincing as Page, it’s easy to forget that we aren’t watching the real McCoy. She perfectly captures Page’s mixture of enthusiasm and innocence that made her such a sensation. Lili Taylor walks away with her scenes as Paula Klaw (and the emphasis put on her character rather implies that she had more to do with the production of the Klaw films than did her brother). Well-handled too is Page’s faith, which could so easily have been played for laughs, but is dealt with quite sensitively.
The audio is, apparently 5.1, but you could have fooled me. The surround elements are pretty much zero, and this includes the score. Everything is crystal clear and free of distortion, but it could just as well have been presented in mono. The thing is, given the look of the film and its setting, the audio effect isn’t inappropriate.
The film is primarily in black and white, except for a few sequences. In an inspired move, Harron shoots the Miami sequences in colour, and in the tones that mimic a 1950’s postcard. The transfer handles these moments very well, though they aren’t quite as sharp as the B&W scenes. Those have wonderful tones, contrasts and there are no edge enhancement problems. There is some grain, but often deployed deliberately.
Harron, Turner and Mol all take part in the commentary, and for once having that many speakers doesn’t degenerate into in-joke silliness. Their discussion is very thoughtful with regards to both the film and its real-life subjects. “An Inside Look at the ‘Pin-Up Queen of the Universe’” is a fairly standard making-of featurette, but is rather more interesting than most. A very short vintage feature of Page herself is a nice touch, and you have the theatrical trailer.
It may not be as deep a film as some might like, but it is enormously likeable (like its subject).
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary
- Making-of Featurette
- Vintage Bettie Page Short
- Theatrical Trailer