Home Video Hovel: Bettie Page Reveals All, by Sarah Brinks
Bettie Page Reveals All is a biopic about the famous model, pinup girl, and pop culture icon Betty Page. Filmmaker Mark Mori interviewed Betty Page before she died in 2008 and it is her voice that narrates the majority of the film. You never see the elderly Page because she wants people to remember her the way she was in her pictures. Her personality and intellect come through in the narration. Before I saw the film I knew very little about Bettie Page. I knew she was a model and sexual icon, but that was about it. Like many interesting figures in history she led a full and often controversial life.
Bettie Page Reveals All goes through her life from childhood to death. Page grew up very poor in Tennessee with bunch of brothers and sisters, a poorly educated mother, and a sexually abusive father. Her mother finally left her husband and Page spent a few years in an orphanage. After an unsuccessful and abusive shotgun marriage she started her career as a model in New York City. It was a policeman in New York City who was an amateur photographer that encouraged Page to cut her signature bangs. It was Page’s unique look, positive attitude on set, and willingness to pose nude that made her a big star.
Page narrates the film and Mori uses the many photos and films she did throughout her career to tell the story. He also uses Page historians and photographers to fill in the gaps and give context to Page’s stories. In the many interviews with photographers that shot Page they all spoke very highly of her a subject. She was a very natural model. She was always smiling and having fun. She was also not shy about her body. She always new how to pose and had new ideas and knew how to move her body. She could put new photographers at ease with her pleasant personality and creative posing. She was comfortable in her own skin and that put everyone else at ease. Page said several times in the documentary that she was very comfortable with nudity. She didn’t see it as a big deal even when it came to her bondage work.
The big problem was that the government saw it as a big deal. In the 1950’s when sexual repression was at its peak was also when Page was also at her modeling peak. The McCarthy era had the nation looking over its shoulder and any sort of “lewd” materials could and often were confiscated. The government was opening peoples mail and taking whatever they deemed unfit for the public. This was the Brady Bunch era when female timidity was encouraged and anything sexual was to be discouraged.
It was around this time that Page became a Playboy model. She was Miss January 1955. This connection to Playboy and Hugh Heffner later became a very important connection. Decades after Page gave up modeling she had been through several failed marriages and a complete mental breakdown, it was Hugh Heffner who helped her get legal representation so she could have approval over the use of her image and financial compensation.
Her life story is quite a roller coaster or ups and downs. What I found most interesting and what was only really touched on in the last twenty minutes of the film; the impact that Page has had on American culture, pop culture, and sexual expression. It was Page’s conviction that she wasn’t doing anything morally or legally wrong that made her such a powerful figure for freedom of sexual expression. This paved the way for modern sexual icons like Madonna, Lady Gaga, and Katy Perry. Beyonce even made a music video that was an homage to Page’s modeling shoots and 16 MM films. Her image has been used in comic books, tattoos, and many magazines. She inspired a line of Victoria Secret’s lingerie; she has her own fan club, and much, much more.
Overall I liked the structure and details of the documentary. I learned a lot about Page and her career. I wouldn’t have minded if it was fifteen to twenty minutes longer and they explored her cultural impact a little more. Page was a fascinating subject who remained amazed at the impact she had all across the world. The choice to have Page narrate her own life felt a little strange at first but she was such a delightful person to listen to that I got on board quickly. I watchedBettie Page Reveals All on Blu-ray and it looked great. The Blu-ray really made the older images and footage pop. Anyone who is interested in Bettie Page or her career will enjoy this film, even people like me who go in knowing very little.