Top

film

Stories

 

Bettie Page Reveals All Doesn't Forget the Danger of Being Betty Page in '50s America

<I>Bettie Page Reveals All</I> Doesn't Forget the Danger of Being Betty Page in '50s America
Looking at Page for some 90 minutes is a pleasure unto itself.

The big problem with pinup queen Bettie Page — maybe the only problem — is that her image inspires so many easy bromides about how she made sex seem fun and playful, and how she's a great role model for modern women who want to feel comfortable with their sexuality. It's not that any of those observations are wrong. It's just that they reduce Page to a Post-it-sized affirmation for our own causes.

In 2013, in the Western world, at least, it's not such a big deal to own your sexuality. In the 1950s, when Page's career was flowering — and before she mysteriously walked away from that career in 1957 — owning your sexuality could get you arrested. Page stands for joy and fun and freedom, absolutely, but for her that was perilous. It wasn't her willingness to appear nude, or semi-nude, that made her revolutionary. What made her dangerous was the one thing she almost always wore: a smile.

Mark Mori's documentary Bettie Page Reveals All understands that, celebrating Page's verve and beauty while placing it squarely in its social and historical context. Much of the movie consists of footage and stills from Page's life and career, and face it: Looking at Page for some 90 minutes is a pleasure unto itself. But her actual voice gives the movie its richness. Mori has constructed the movie around a series of audio-only interviews he conducted with Page in the 1990s. There are no photos of the older Page — she said that she wanted people to remember her as she was in the pictures. But the sound of her reveals more than she may have realized. Page never smoked or drank, but the drawling rasp of her older voice bears the marks of a not-so-easy life.

Location Info

Map

City Cinemas Village East Cinema

181-189 2nd Ave.
New York, NY 10012

Category: Movie Theaters

Region: Noho

Details

Bettie Page Reveals All
Directed by Mark Mori
Music Box Films
Opens November 22, Village East



Subscribe to the Voice Film Club podcast

Related Stories

More About

Page, as she tells it, was born into an impoverished Tennessee family of six. Her mother, she says, didn't want her; her father sexually abused her and several of her siblings. But what you don't hear in Page's voice is self-pity. She describes a brief, early, unhappy marriage as a roadblock she had to blast through before she could really start having fun. And she did have fun, making her way to New York, where she found work as a secretary, though she soon discovered she could make more money modeling for amateur photography enthusiasts. Eventually, she appeared in photos and films made by Irving and Paula Klaw, the brother-sister duo behind New York's mail-order photo business Movie Star News, and in magazines like Wink, Titter, Flirt and Beauty Parade, all published by nudie-cutie and fetish impresario Robert Harrison.

Page assures us she was having fun in those photographs, not that we need to be told. Through her pinups, Page became famous for her saucy, athletic curves, her wardrobe of flirty bikinis (most of which she designed and sewed herself), and her blunt shortie bangs. In one of the movie's most delightful interludes, she tells the story of that 'do, explaining that one of those amateur photography enthusiasts suggested they might look good on her. "So I went home and cut me some, and I've been wearing them ever since!" she says with a cackle. Youth may leave us, but bangs endure.

Mori — director of the 1991 documentary Building Bombs — assembles the information here with clarity and sensitivity, particularly in dealing with the unhappier episodes of the 10 years Page spent, later in her life, in a California mental institution. At that time, she couldn't have known how many people remembered her pictures and loved her for them, among them the late illustrator Dave Stevens, who garnered her a new, younger audience with his Rocketeer comics. Stevens subsequently befriended Page and introduced her to Hugh Hefner, who helped her get financial restitution for the use of her image.

Stevens died in 2008, the same year Page did. Hefner, on the other hand, is a survivor in silk pajamas, and his observations here are among the movie's smartest. He points out that the simple idea of sex as a normal part of life — something we take for granted now — was revolutionary in the '50s. During the course of posing for those camera-club enthusiasts, Page was once arrested for "indecent exposure," and the mere wording of the charge enraged her. We hear her explain matter-of-factly, years after she had become a devout Christian, that she felt very comfortable naked and loved having sex.

Ultimately, that may be one of the most touching angles of Bettie Page Reveals All. Mori tracks down some of Page's former boyfriends, as well as one deeply sympathetic ex-husband, who all speak of her in the tenderest terms. They all say, without braggadocio, how much she loved sex, and how much they loved having sex with her. How often do we get to hear old people speak with that kind of honesty? Mostly, it's not the sort of thing we youngsters want to hear. But isn't that the key to Bettie Page's enduring appeal? In those pictures, she'll always be young and beautiful, playful and fun — more than just a dream girl, she's a reminder of our own dreams.

 
My Voice Nation Help
11 comments
BeccaW
BeccaW

Seems odd to me  how often women like Page - who were sexually abused/raped as children - are pointed out as "role models" to young women  who "want to feel comfortable with their sexuality." 

In reality,  Page - and others like Jenna Jameson, Marilyn Monroe - are actually women who were comfortable being objectified  because their introduction to sex was as an object for others to use.  Which represents the total opposite of a sexuality that is"fun, free, and joyful."


A woman can be extremely comfortable and joyous with her sexuality in her private life. She's not suffering from serious hangups just because she doesn't want to be sexual the way others direct and pay her to in a public forum.     

Later in her life Bettie suffered a nervous breakdown and spent almost two years in a mental hospital.   Does the movie share that with the audience or would that take away from the illusion they are peddling?

What a screwed up culture we have when we encourage emotionally healthy young women, who manage to avoid abuse and grow up with true "ownership" of their bodies and sexuality, to imitate such tragically sexually and emotionally damaged "role models."  


L

Grandpa
Grandpa

Bring back the good olde days... When there wasn't all the 24/7 BS. One would have to wait for the Pony Express...

Bettie Page was from Grandpa's era and before the Sexual Revolution of the 60's.

jaesutherland23
jaesutherland23

"There are no photos of the older Page"...these things are as easy to get right as they are to look up in Google images. There are pictures of her at age of 80.   

Pamela Equality Sund-Buck
Pamela Equality Sund-Buck

Inspiring because she did something that women weren't allowed to do in the 50's, be who she wanted to be. She did what she wanted to do and made no apologies. Think about the role women were forced into in those times. Submissive, supportive mother and wife. No other options allowed. Hell, birth control was illegal until the 70's. Women today are still thought to be sexless counterparts to men. "Studies Show Women Actually Like Sex" I read a report like that last week ! Fuck yea we like sex, A LOT! Always have, we just weren't allowed to express it because it's not "ladylike". I could go on forever, the point is, I find great inspiration in women who challenge stereotypes and make the world a better place for me and my daughters. Kudos to Betty! That woman rocked!

Jan Kolski
Jan Kolski

Duh! Like saying, "I love ice cream".

greggorelick
greggorelick

@BeccaW wow, thanks for taking all of the positive things she has done for so many people (and she knew, eventually, how huge she was to so many) and replacing it with your soapboxing drivel. She (like many) were abused. WE GET IT. But for you to take away everything she did and marginalize it because of your miserable agenda is just despicable. Oh, the movie does share her mental illness, thanks for judging before you saw it. Maybe you want to remember her as such, but the rest of us will remember her for all the good things and happiness she brought to everyone that loves her... and in the end, she came to understand this. Are abuse victims supposed to be forever branded as such, and not allowed to express any sort of sexuality the rest of their lives?

greggorelick
greggorelick

Watch the movie and figure this out for yourself.

 

Now Showing

Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

Around The Web

Box Office Report

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!

Loading...