Synopsis: Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Mark Mori’s Bettie Page Reveals All is an intimate look at one of the world’s most recognized sex symbols, told in her own words for the first time– from her humble beginnings as one of six children in an impoverished southern family, to high school salutatorian, to scandalous 50s pin-up model, to shocking retirement in 1957 at the peak of her modeling career. With a stunning array of gorgeous photographs, unusual archival material, and playful movie footage, Bettie Page Reveals All shows how Bettie’s unabashed sexual expression and provocative poses set the stage for the sexual revolution and ushered in a modern era in fashion.
eyelights: Bettie Page’s omnipresent sexiness and playfulness. its overview of Bettie Page’s life. its interviews. its structure.
eyesores: Bettie Page’s unfortunate fate.
“She reached the peak of popularity in her profession and disappeared.”
As a fan of Goth culture, Bettie Page has been a presence in my life for what seems like forever. And yet I know so little about her: aside for seeing the bio-drama ‘The Notorious Bettie Page’, and probably a few pictures here and there, I’ve never really spent much time exploring this pop icon’s life and career.
Enter ‘Bettie Page Reveals All’.
I became aware of the 2012 documentary when it was first released on home video; I read a positive review of the picture and, not long thereafter, I found a promotional poster for the film at my local art house cinema. I grabbed it right away and put it up in my library – even though I had never seen the movie before.
C’mon… it’s Bettie Page: Of course her poster was going to be put up!
Having now seen the movie, I’ve got to admit to being absolutely blown away by Bettie: I had seen little of her before, but the film is loaded with tons of lovely, sexy pictures of her. TONS. It even features previously unpublished pictures that were taken in her early modeling days by an amateur photographer.
I had no idea just how beautiful, vibrant, fresh, lively she was. Wow. I really didn’t expect that, especially since what little I saw was her bondage stuff. She gives off such a pure, carefree vibe. There’s even 16mm stock footage of her posing nude; even the way she moves is stunning. She had a playful, free quality.
But ‘Bettie Page Reveals All’ goes beyond the superficial: it also goes deeper by incorporating an audio interview that she (presumably) did especially for the documentary. Then in her twilight years (she passed away in 2008), she continued to affect a carefree attitude, laughing openly about even her miserable experiences.
I’m a fan.
The film, which is in effect narrated by Bettie Page (via that interview) covers her early years , her modeling career and its aftermath, finally shedding light on what had been on of the greatest mysteries in pop culture: What happened to her after unexpectedly retiring from modeling back in 1957? Here, Bettie Page reveals all.
The picture begins with a brief intro, then credits, then to the funeral, and then goes all the way back to Page’s childhood: She talks about her father being a “pervert”: he would have sex with anything and anyone – and even molested his daughters. Page’s relationships with men would be complicated the rest of her life.
She started modeling as a teenager. She dreamed of being a valedictorian, but got second place by 1/4 point, so she decided to try her hand at acting. She did a screen test for 20th Century Fox and it didn’t go well. So she went to New York City in 1947 and led a simple life: secretary by day and out dancing at night.
But she had a rough personal life: Before moving to NYC, she had been married and her husband became abusive. Upon her arrival in New York City, she was sexually assaulted by a group of men she thought were friends. Then she discovered the hard way that the love of her life was already married to someone else.
She wanted to model but she had been told that she wasn’t skinny enough. Then one day she met an amateur photographer who wanted to take pictures of her. Everything changed. Now 27, she modeled for camera clubs for 25$ a day – considering that her rent was less than 50$ a month at the time, this was very good money indeed.
The filmmakers actually tracked down some of those camera club members and interviewed them for the film: the all agreed that she was a natural. She apparently didn’t need to be given directions, she just knew how to pose in optimal positions. She also designed her own bikinis and clothes for her modeling sessions.
She starting doing photo shoots for magazines. At the time, anything considered “pornographic” was being targeted by the authorities, so they were at risk. She eventually got arrested with a group of 27 people for indecent exposure. But she refused to accept that her body was indecent, so she asked to have the charges changed.
And it was.
They talk about the bondage: She was apparently so good at it because she performed for the camera, had fun. Page discusses the only time she was scared, and the most demeaning one, laughing about it. She also recounts popping her knee wrestling another girl: doctors told her her modeling career was over, but a voice told her how to fix it.
Yes, a voice.
Then, at the age of 34, she just stopped.
From 1957 to 1992, no one knew where she had gone, what had happened to her. But there were plenty of rumours.
The truth is that she had a mental breakdown over time, after going to Christian College and marrying again. She became obsessed with religion, heard voices. She became deranged and dangerous and, after her breakdown, ended up in a mental hospital. There’s a sad picture of her then, completely worn, a shadow of her former self.
It got worse: After being released, she went to California and got into an altercation with her landlord, nearly killing her.
She was put away for 10 years.
It’s unknown exactly what kinds of treatments she was subjected to, and their impact on her, as this is something that few know about. And this is the one thing that Page remains discreet about. She also refused for anyone to see her elderly, so that people could continue to remember her for the young vibrant woman she once was.
Good call. Way to hold up your legacy.
The picture discussed the aftermath of Bettie Page’s modeling career, of the impact it had on visual artists. They talk about the motion pictures that are inspired by her: ‘The Rocketeer’, ‘The Notorious Bettie Page’, …etc. Bettie Page has had a tremendous impact on pop culture, with her likeness found just about everywhere.
In her later years, Hugh Hefner invited her over to his home and hooked her up with an agent so that she could control her image and finally make money. In fact, she made more money in her final years than when she modeled. Hefner is interviewed extensively for the documentary, as are many other celebrities and fans of Page.
And there are many.
Frankly, I suspect that ‘Bettie Page Reveals All’ is and forever will be the definitive documentary on Bettie Page: it is candid, detailed and touching, a loving tribute to an iconic figure who has affected countless millions and continues to to this day. There have been very few models as lovely, sexy and influential.
‘Bettie Page Reveals All’ makes this abundantly clear.
Date of viewing: May 16, 2016