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NEW YORK — Perhaps the only pin-up queen to deserve the label “icon” tells her own story in Mark Mori‘s Bettie Page Reveals All, an adoring bio-doc built around audiotape of interviews conducted near the end of Page’s life. Though it will be welcomed by her most ardent admirers, the film’s low-rent, fanboy production values make it ill-suited for mainstream exhibition — a shame, since these tapes might easily have been worked into a doc with real commercial appeal.
Using footage from a star-studded Bettie-themed party to establish the model’s enduring appeal, Mori offers brief testimonials from everyone from Todd Oldham to Dita Von Teese. Along the way, we’ll hear from those who are only stars within Bettie mythology: Paula Klaw and Bunny Yeager, who are responsible for her most famous photos; Greg Threakston, whose Betty Pages [sic] fanzine helped spread her fame; and some of the amateur photographers whose camera clubs hired her as a model. Much of the storytelling is accompanied by excessively on-the-nose stock footage, but Mori also makes liberal, welcome use of stills and movie footage featuring Page herself.
The film’s reason for being, though, is the sound of Page’s voice — a worldly, aged Southern drawl — as she recounts her life story from childhood through retirement. Mori never explains the circumstances in which these tapes were made, but we do know why they’re not video: Page retired at 34, shunning cameras in hopes of being remembered as she once was.
Page’s story is littered with enough misfortune to make the innocent, joyful sexuality projected in her photos (“she smiled with her whole body,” one interviewee exclaims) all the more impressive. Her father was a “sex fiend” who molested everything from chickens and cows to his daughters; her first husband returned from the war as a “jealous maniac.” And things got worse after retirement, when the once free-spirited girl was first dominated by religious fundamentalists, then hospitalized for ten years after a mental breakdown.
Remarkably, Page maintains an upbeat mood while recounting this tale. Editing of the audiotape offers no breathing room for her narration, and Gary Guttman’s relentlessly dreadful score competes with her throughout. But Page’s no-regrets spirit and the enraptured testimonials from those who knew her in her prime (including some swooning ex-lovers) overpowers clumsy filmmaking — adding one more bit of lore to a legend that has already endured government censors, religious scolds, and an unauthorized (and, according to Page, lie-stuffed) Hollywood biopic.
Production Company: Single Spark Pictures
Director: Mark Mori
Screenwriter: Douglas Miller
Producers: Mark Mori, James Swanson
Music: Gary Guttman
Editors: Douglas Miller, Julie Chabot
No rating, 101 minutes.
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