Page Turner, by Mat Bradley-Tschirgi
Bettie Page is a model recognized around the world. The 14th Playboy Playmate, she appeared in photo shoots that ranged from wholesome pin-ups to randy bondage. Her modeling stint lasted less than a decade. Bettie Page fan clubs popped up around the world devoted to solve the mystery of what happened to the model icon. Was she six feet under or slinging hash at a greasy spoon? Mark Mori’s documentary Bettie Page Reveals All delves into the sometimes tragic tale of Page’s life mostly narrated by Page herself in a vintage audio interview. Her later life is glossed over in quick fashion, but this documentary provides a zippy overview of Page’s life accompanied by stills of hundreds of photographs from her modeling career.
Bettie Page Reveals All gets off to a lumpy start by contrasting a modern art exhibit devoted to Page attended by such celebrities as Elton John with footage of her funeral attended by such friends as Hugh Hefner. This film really picks up when the narration of an aged Bettie Page details her rough childhood filled with sordid tales of molestation and orphanages delivered in a very manner of fact manner. As Page touches on the horrific events of her life, director Mark Mori wisely displays vintage film clips and still images on the screen to give the viewer a sense of place. By shying away from live-action reenactments, the viewer is forced to focus on Page’s word, creating vivid images in the mind’s eye.
The majority of the film focuses on Bettie Page’s short-lived, but very popular, modeling career. The sheer variety of photographs and films from the era are rather effective at showing off Page’s natural model skills. Some of these photographs would be classified today as soft-core pornography; at the time, they were considered indecent enough to launch a federal investigation. She designed most of the outfits she wore in her pictorials, many of which were variations on the bikini.
The narrative of Bettie Page’s modeling career is so inviting that one hardly notices the lack of focus on her later life. After a series of failed marriages, she became a born-again Christian in Florida. She had a few psychotic breakdowns in Florida and California before eventually befriending Dave Stevens, creator of the cult comic The Rocketeer. With the help of Hugh Hefner’s business associates, she finally was able to profit off her likeness. These pages from Page’s life serve as a fascinating contrast to her modeling career (some of Page’s ex-husbands are interviewed), but they are not the main focus of this documentary. Part of the reason for this is Page’s reluctance to be in the public eye. No contemporary photographs of Page are shown past an arrest photo in the early 1970s, which adds to the mystique of her life. Her alleged reaction to a screening of the 2005 HBO film The Notorious Bettie Page is hysterical.
Although disturbing at times, Bettie Page Reveals All is an effective look at the sometimes troubled life of a modeling icon. Director Mark Mori focuses more on Page’s life than her influence in modern culture. A few interviews near the end of the film are with models such as Tricia Helfer and a few of the Suicide Girls; more of these would have been welcome. As long you are not offended by the sight of a nude woman, this documentary is both daring and memorable, just like Bettie Page herself.