Movie Review: The Notorious Bettie Page (2005)

Monday, April 6th, 2009

A disappointingly superficial Bettie Page biopic.

After reading Eric Schlosser’s REEFER MADNESS (which details, among other things, the history of pornography and “adult” entertainment, including the U.S. government’s attempts to outlaw such vices, First Amendment be damned!), I rented THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE, thinking that it might be interesting to see the ’50s “war on porn” brought to life. While the film does begin with a Congressional inquiry into the “illegal” activities of Irving and Paula Klaw (who employed Page for a time), this angle is used as a vehicle with which to explore Page’s life, and the anti-pornography craze soon fades to the background. When the topic is covered, it’s done so superficially, with little attention to detail.

Which is all fine and good – after all, the film is called THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE for a reason – except the movie also fails to offer much insight into Page’s childhood, her path to becoming a pinup model, or her life after sex work. Page’s conversion to Christianity, for example, concludes the film – but the audience is left with little idea as to the how’s or why’s of her newfound fundamentalism.

All in all, THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE is stylistic but superficial – which is frustratingly disappointing, given the subject matter. The filmmakers missed an incredible opportunity to examine not just the rise and retirement of the Notorious Ms. Page, but also government corruption and censorship, the beginnings of the sexual revolution, the effects of sexual abuse on women, and the state of feminism in the ’50s.

Though THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE is rated R, I thought it was rather tame. Only two of the photo shoots involve nudity; while risqué outfits and poses are depicted throughout the film, it’s nothing you couldn’t find on the cover of MAXIM or FHM nowadays. Two instances of rape are implied, though never shown, which is a relief – too often, violence against women is sexualized and glamorized, and I admire the filmmaker’s decision to merely hint at the sexual traumas endured by Page.

(This review was originally published on Amazon. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)