[17 June 2014]
With a title like Bettie Page Reveals All, many viewers might expect a certain kind of sexed-up movie focusing on the most risqué aspects of the now-famous (and “Notorious”) pin-up star. And those viewers looking for “cheesecake” imagery wouldn’t be disappointed to a large degree in both the content of the feature documentary and the Blu-ray extras that it accompanies. However, this is not simply a sexualized remembrance of the starlet who rose so quickly as a model and then disappeared.
Bettie Page Reveals All is so titled because the voice of the older Page, who died in 2008, is looking back on her life in a series of audio interviews (which gives some credence to the concept that the film was “narrated by Bettie Page”, as the film claims). While the recordings of Page’s voice hardly constitute a literal “narration”, they do provide a legitimate guideline through Page’s life from her earliest years, through her career and the aftermath which remained mostly mysterious to even her most devoted fans for a very long time.
The reason for this is, in part, because Page had no idea that there were any sort of fans of hers remaining anywhere in the world, having believed she was merely a flash in the modeling pan who was quickly dismissed. Meanwhile, a cottage industry had developed around the pin-up girl with merchandise and imitators to this day.
Page reveals, in her own voice, her incredible amazement that anyone even remembered that she existed, much less warranted a segment on Entertainment Tonight decades after her last photo shoot). This part of her story would have made a deeply interesting documentary on its own. But director Mark Mori and writer Doug Miller do not simply go for the peaks of Page’s life and career. Rather, they focus on the “All” of the title and reach back to the very beginning.
Old black and white photos of Page’s childhood and teen years are introduced by Page—by voice only, as she refused to be photographed in later life—as she tells the stories of her family, interests, early relationships and her first forays into modeling. Naturally, once the modeling years are explored, Mori has a plethora of visuals to deal with in the form of both still photos and videos, all of which look surprisingly clean and clear, even under the revealing eye of high definition Blu-ray.
More surprising is how innocently Page still approached every facet of her career, whether she was taking sweet “girl next door” photographs or making darker “bondage” videos. Page occasionally seems worldly and fully cognizant of the risqué nature of the modeling she did (which was, of course, much more risqué in the ‘50s than today). At other times Page seems to not understand the puritanical protest to the styles of modeling she found herself involved in with a sort of “What’s the big deal?” attitude.
Page’s is not the only revealing voice in Bettie Page Reveals All, during these early phases or beyond. Onscreen interviews with Dita Von Teese, Paula Klaw, Tempest Storm, Bunny Yeager, Greg Theakston and Hugh Hefner (Page was among Playboy Magazine’s first “Playmates of the Month”) all help to narrate the documentary through Page’s career’s ups, downs and missing years.
It’s during these missing years that Page’s innocence and brightness disappears. While this era is hardly a real mystery anymore, hearing the pain in Page’s voice brings a pathos to the proceedings that separates this documentary from any sort of mere celebration of pin-up sexuality. To the credit of Miller and Mori, every part of this is treated with sensitivity and a very, well, documentary like tone without added sensationalism.
Still, Bettie Page Reveals All is much more of a tribute than an objective documentary—not that such a title promises objectivity. There are few opposing viewpoints to Page’s, though on the whole she is treated as an unassailable omniscient narrator throughout the film. This doesn’t become much of a problem for the viewer, however, because Page always comes off as the sweet woman fans imagine her to be. The interviews that supply the narration were never intended to really be narration. While they are often perfect fits to the screen story, other times they feel more like DVD commentary than direct accompaniment.
Extras include bonus footage, still galleries, coverage of Page’s funeral, archival and more current video (including a phone call between Paula Klaw and Page in their later years) and a music video. Most of the extras are worth the time to watch, although some do overstay their welcome and are included for the sake of completion only.
Overall, Bettie Page Reveals All is an excellent amalgamation of the history of Page and her incredible impact on modeling and fashion, mostly told in her own voice, to boot. The visuals are worthy of high definition and the story is much more often touching and engrossing than exploitative or merely “revealing”.