By Marissa Little
After working as a model in the 1950s, thirty-four-year old Bettie Page not only retired, but disappeared. In the 1980s, a resurgence in popularity firmly established her as an icon, and her desire to remain out of the spotlight led her to take on a myth-like status.
Mary Harron attempted to take some of the mystery away with her 2005 film, “The Notorious Bettie Page” to which the real Bettie Page reportedly responded, “Lies, lies, lies. L-I-E-S. LIES.” Prior to her death in 2008, Mark Mori gave Page the opportunity to tell her story. Years later, his interview with the Queen of the Pin-ups has arrived in theatres as the documentary “Bettie Page Reveals All.” Although Mori’s filmmaking falters, the candidness and fascinating life of its reclusive subject save the film.
The film starts slowly, with Mori interviewing celebrities who discuss Page’s influence in modern pop culture. It hits its stride once Page is introduced and begins narrating her story, starting with her determination to overcome an impoverished childhood to graduate as the salutatorian of her high school class, continuing through her career and her troubled life after.
Page distanced herself from the public after her retirement so she would be remembered for the way she looked during her career. As a result, Mori plays audio recordings of his interview with her over archival pictures and videos. Luckily for Mori, Page worked incessantly during her seven-year career and produced more than enough material. She no longer hides her Southern drawl when she speaks; however, it has aged with her and its gruffness doesn’t match the woman in the photographs.
At times, Page is blunt, such as when she says that the only things she had in common with an ex-husband were “movies, hamburgers, and making love” or when she praises the benefits of “air baths.” When she discusses darker areas of her life, she skims over them in a matter-of-fact tone. Unfortunately, Page has survived many dark days — sexual abuse from her father and a gang rape, turbulent relationships, a diagnosis as a paranoid schizophrenic, and a ten-year stay in a psychiatric hospital. While she isn’t obligated to give all of the messy details of her life, it would’ve been more interesting than listening to Hugh Hefner or Dita von Teese.
Mori received an Academy Award nomination for his 1991 documentary, “Building Bombs,” yet “Bettie Page Reveals All” lacks any indication of his past success. When not using material featuring Page, Mori uses clips from films or cartoons to act out a story. Other times, he will use his own shaky footage taken on a low-quality camera that makes the film feel amateurish. The film’s score is merely elevator music and it plays unnecessarily throughout the entire film.
However, the content Mori delivers compensates for his errors. Page trusted Mori and he obviously adores her and the result is unprecedented openness from Page. Mori had access to people who were significant in her life and they provided invaluable insight to her.
Ultimately, Mori doesn’t do a lot with the content. “Bettie Page Reveals All” certainly doesn’t reveal all, but its director seems to be just fine with mediocrity.
Marissa Little is a contributing writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.