You are in love with Bettie Page. Perhaps one of the world's most famous pinup gals, Page's look and sexual iconography is still being celebrated to this very day. She's not so much a cult figure as the cornerstone of all “alternative” modeling culture. It's easy to see why: Bettie was a sunny and happy erotic model, whose cheerful disposition always came through in her pictures. She was never at a loss for a pose, was firmly in control of her body and her sexuality, and yet still managed to broadcast a sweetness – almost an innocence – that belied the nudity and bondage she so often found herself surrounded by.
Mark Mori's new documentary Bettie Page Reveals All, based on a series of audio-only interviews Page granted before her death in 2008, is not nearly as sensationalistic as the title would have you believe (although there are ample amounts of alluring flesh on display). Indeed, the pleasures of the film come from Page's stories, constructed into the narrative of her life. She was raised by indifferent and abusive parents in Tennessee, had several failed marriages, no kids, embraced Born-Again Christianity, had a mental collapse, and slowly spent her post-modeling days living an invisible modest life in California.
The myth of the mysterious Bettie Page soon grew up around her, and she soon became a cult figure who grew into a showbiz titan along the lines of Elvis Presley. By the 1990s, Page iconography was everywhere, and she was featured in comics, coffee table books, and the like. Page had no idea this was going on for many years. When she was finally contacted about her legend, she seemed startled and even a little spooked.
With so many pundits, fans, and cult followers pasting heroism all over Page – she is credited wrongly for starting the sexual revolution, for selling a new breed of feminism, etc. etc. – it's easy to forget that she was just a down-to-Earth lady who happened to be good at her job. And her job happened to be dressing up in bikinis (which she made herself!) and occasionally stripping naked for cameras. Page herself was not a revolutionary. She was just the best, friendliest, and most relative sexual icon of her – of any – generation. The story of how she chose her iconic black bangs is amusing. “I been wearin' 'em ever since!” Her aged voice and mischievous cackle has Page coming across as everyone's friendly – and slightly randy – gramma. She's forthright and happy to share, but never dirty.
A few asides explain sexual mores at the time, and that Page was doing something daring with her nude photoshoots. But Page's dismissive vocal tone defies any attempts to paint her as a revolutionary. “I was jus' doin' m' job.”
It's a pity this story had to be told in film as shoddy as this. The filmmakers pair Page's interview with a long, long string of seemingly haphazard images taken from public domain archives, often just giving us something period-appropriate to look at while Page spins her yarn. The music changes drastically and sloppily throughout, crashing to a halt with every edit, and restarting with the next. The “Getty Images” watermark even appears on some of the images. It looks like it was slapped together on the internet.
Bettie Page Reveals All is a cheap puff piece that is only occasionally saved by Page's own frankness. Plus, after all is said and done, it's possible to look at pictures of the still alluring Bettie Page for a full 90 minutes and not get bored. I can think of worse ways to while away 90 minutes in a movie theater.
Witney Seibold is a featured contributor on the CraveOnline Film Channel, and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. You can read his weekly articles Trolling, Free Film School and The Series Project, and follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.