Synopsis: Cult Epics presents its 25th Anniversary release THE EXOTIC DANCES OF BETTIE PAGE. Bettie Page, pin-up model of the 1950s, cult model of the 80s and 90s, gained mainstream recognition in the last few years of her life when she was immortalized in three major film productions, the first being BETTIE PAGE DARK ANGEL (a homage to the lost bondage films.) Irving Klaw, “King of the Pin-ups,” directed these short films and they where the first the young Bettie performed in on celluloid. These films have now been transferred from original 8mm reels in a new High-definition transfer, including rare bonus Bettie Page “Kamera Club” films. The release features a 1950s rock ‘n roll lounge soundtrack along with new bonus features.
The Exotic Dances of Bettie Page 6.5
eyelights: Bettie’s playfulness. Bettie’s loveliness.
eyesores: its repetitiveness. its picture quality. its discrepant soundtrack.
When I first watched ‘The Notorious Bettie Page‘, a decade or so ago, I had no idea that I was lifting a lid that I could never reseal again. Though I wasn’t enamoured with the picture, it provided a glimpse into the life of a pin-up model and cult icon I knew nothing about.
When I heard about ‘Bettie Page Reveals All‘, it stayed on my radar. The moment that I picked up the tantalizing promotional poster from my local art house cinema, my fate was sealed: I had to get the blu-ray. And, when I finally did, I completely fell in love with Bettie.
Though I don’t have the same fascination with her that her legions of fans have, I immediately saw her natural charm and charisma in the sampled pictures and short films. On top of being attractive, her body of work is effused with a playful quality that makes her very alluring.
So I decided to explore it a bit more.
Though I have yet to pick up a collection of modeling work, I sought out all the DVDs that document her short films, 8mm teasers that feature her showing off for the camera. It was a relatively expensive endeavour that culminated with the purchase of this blu-ray presentation.
‘The Exotic Dances of Bettie Page’ is a 35-minute collection of films by Irving Klaw, and that was first distributed on VHS by Cult Epics in 1991. For this 2016 re-release, they went back to the original elements and rescanned all of the material in as high resolution as possible.
I had no idea what to expect, but these films are basically 4-5 minutes of Bettie improvising some moves for the camera in all sorts of lingerie. The setting is always rudimentary. And, as they were shot without sound, Cult Epics added a rockabilly soundtrack as a backing.
Here’s a quick run-down of the shorts:
1. Return of the Teaser Girl: Watch Bettie shake her rump and wave her legs while sitting on a poof. It’s amusing, sweet.
2. Betty’s Clown Dance, Part One: Bettie is siting on a chair and has a clown doll – a strange choice for a prop, contextually-speaking. She babies it, then dances with it. It’s made watchable by the sway of her hips.
3. Betty’s Clown Dance, Part Two: A continuation of the first part, now Bettie’s gyrating for the camera. She then picks up the doll and prances around with it. Wow… what a lovely abdomen and hips she had!
4. Flirtatious Dance by Betty: In a living room, in front of a couch, she gyrates and swings her hips. Then she sits on the floor, lies on the couch, and kicks her legs.
5. Peppy Graceful Dance: Bettie is vigourously shaking her hips all about. She swings her arms and eventually beckons the audience. This one has really poor definition; we can’t even see her face!
6. Betty Waltzing in Satin Scanties: Bettie is wearing a long white coat and black gloves and teasing the lingerie underneath. It was actually nice to see her initially draped and then taking it off. Then she sits on a couch, gets up and rolls her butt a few times. Yum.
7. Betty High Heel Dance: Wearing a grey top, light panties and stockings, Bettie gets on the floor, near a poof, rolls her bum at us, before getting back up on the poof. She then teases her hair, stretches out on the floor, and kicks her legs up. It was surprisingly hot.
8. Tambourine Dance: After dancing around with maracas as props for a bit, Bettie then grabs a tambourine. Bizarrely, the camera zooms in on her midriff, then only her legs, before zooming back out. She finishes up with the maracas again. She’s very fit here, with a nice abdomen and hips.
9. Joyful Dance by Betty: This one starts with her @$$ at the camera, swaying, before the camera pans up. Bettie then pretends to take off her stockings, turns back, and sways. Then she dances some more. The focus here is her butt, though the camera eventually zooms on her legs.
10. Betty’s Hat Dance: Here Bettie dances with a circular, mesh hat. She grinds her hips a bit, albeit very playfully, before eventually doing a split.
11. Dream Dance by Betty: On the floor, in front of large drapes, Bettie shows us glamour shots of men (perhaps celebrities?) and kisses them. She stays mostly on her knees and shakes her bootie. The film ends with her sending kisses to two pictures she holds up and then at us.
12. Betty’s Lingerie Tease Dance, Part Two: While we don’t get to see Part One, I guess Part Two was considered noteworthy even though it’s of really poor quality; it takes a close-up for us to see Bettie’s face. Here she dances in place and ends up on her knees, rolling hips back and forth. The camera stays from the midriff up before panning down and then going for a medium shot.
Though the material was scanned in 2K resolution, the source material is 8mm film and it wasn’t exactly maintained in the greatest condition (i.e. boxes in an attic). So even though this is probably as good as it’ll ever get we often can’t see Bettie’s face and other details.
These shorts were considered titillating back in the day, but they’ve clearly been eclipsed since; the staging is banal, Bettie’s numbers don’t appear to be choreographed, and the film quality is poor. But Bettie leaps off the screen anyway. She is the magical quality here.
It’s easy to understand why she was -and is- so appealing.
A set of four Kamera Club Films is included the special features (though they’re added to the disc’s total runtime). I don’t quite know the history of these, but one supposes that they were commissioned for one of the many groups of amateur photographers she worked with.
In any event, this 14-minute reel is a bit naughier.
Kamera Club Films
1. Betty Page Nude: Bettie is topless, next to a carriage wheel, playing with a ball and using the wheel as a prop. There’s fishnet on the wall behind her. She’s smiling, flirty, playful. The camera takes in as much as possible, even caressing her body at times.
2. Betty Page in Black Lingerie: Bettie is rolling on a mattress against a brick wall, wearing a black nightie, and sporting black heels. She keeps changing poses, stretching her legs, shaking her tush and bosoms. It’s the most suggestive short of the lot.
3. Bettie Page in White Lingerie: Dancing in white bra and panties in front of curtains, Bettie then she lays down, rolls around and kicks legs up on a mattress.
4. Bettie Page in Red Lingerie: In light panties and bra with a dark trim and fringes, Bettie rolls back on a bed, then gets up. The camera focuses on her legs as she moves. She ends each short with a wave and a kiss.
The blu-ray also features these extras:
Irving Klaw Photo Gallery: This is a 1m42s montage of her BDSM shots. The resolution here is really nice, by far better than anything else on this disc. I don’t even like BDSM but these shots makes me want to get a collection of her BDSM modeling; they’re gorgeous and she’s obviously having fun.
Bettie Page Uncovered: The Private Life and Photographs: This 22-minute featurette was shot on June 29, 2016, at the Catalina Island Museum, in California.
It’s set at a gallery exhibit, and it consists of a few words between the gallery director, the curator and Ron Bren, Bettie’s nephew, as he shows them modeling pictures of Bettie and his mom together. They discuss the origins of the picture and negatives. The director and curator are fascinated by these unseen pictures, but we only get to see them over Bren’s shoulder.
Bren is later introduced to a small gathering of gallery patrons and he addresses them, reminiscing about Bettie, whom he knew as a kid. Some of his stories are repetitive, but it’s enjoyable enough. Then the curator recounts an event in Germany which had 150 Bettie lookalikes show up. It’s an echoey, edited featurette; it doesn’t even show us all of Bren’s appearance.
The featurette ends with the caption “To be continued?”.
It’s very likely to be, I’d imagine, as this collection is the least of it: On top of shooting an estimated 30 short films, Bettie Page also starred in three feature-length films: ‘Striporama’, ‘Varietease’ and ‘Teaserama’, all of which are also available on home video.
I can’t wait to discover those.
While I enjoyed this blu-ray, I must admit that it’s of little relevance to people who aren’t fans of Bettie Page, burlesque or BDSM; this is fodder for an exclusive group of people, though they are many and growing in numbers. For them I suspect this is true treasure.
Granted, the film quality is poor, but there’s nothing to be done about that, given the source material and its age. The music that Cult Epics grafted on it is distracting, as it wasn’t part of the original footage, but you can always play it on mute or with your own music.
All told, ‘The Exotic Dances of Bettie Page’ is a nice package. Thin though it may be, it’s a good primer to Page’s film work; it finds her in peak form, teasing her audiences through the ages, immortalized for generations to enjoy. It’s wonderfully cheeky archival material.
Oh, Bettie! How I do love thee.
Date of viewing: June 28, 2017