'Bettie Page Reveals All' Maintains the Pinup Artist's Mystique

Her remarkable relationship to the camera is visible in most of the photos and footage of Bettie Page, perhaps especially in those she took with two women photographers.

Bettie Page Reveals All

Director: Mark Mori
Cast: Bettie Page, Hugh Hefner, Bunny Yeager, Paula Klaw, Tempest Storm, Dita Von Teese, Olivia De Berardinis, Greg Theakston, Richard W. Bann, Todd Oldham, Mamie Van Doren, Rebecca Romijn, Steve Brewster
Rated: R
Studio: Music Box Films
Year: 2013
US date: 2013-11-22 (Limited release)

"We go on the bus and went 30 miles away to Galston, Tennessee, and we were married in five minutes. And when I got on the bus to go back with him, I said to myself, 'What have I done?'" Recalling her first marriage, Bettie Page sounds like she does throughout Bettie Page Reveals All, at once bemused and fatigued, animated and reflective, as if she's performing a self she remembers being. In 1943, that self married her high school sweetheart, Billy Neal, just before he was drafted into the Navy during World War II.

The story sounds like one that might have been told by any number of young women back then. Just so, as Page narrates, you don't see images of her life, exactly, but rather, images of the life she might have had, stock images of a couple entering a courthouse, a bus, and when she recalls her move to San Francisco, a bit of vintage color footage showing hilly streets and the Bay. Here in California, so far from her hometown of Nashville, she had her first screen test, an experience rendered in separate glamour shots of her and then her partner for that test, the classically handsome John Russell, and then stock footage of a woman in a hair stylist's chair, the back of her generic head on display as the stylist's generic hands work at perfecting the generic do.

This is the sort of contradiction that structures the story of Bettie Page in Mark Mori's documentary. The film, in fact, reveals very little. Page -- like Marlene Dietrich before her, in Maximilian Schell's Marlene (1984) -- never appears on screen as her present self, instead leaving you to remember the era that made her and the product she as, imaged in the many, many photos and short films of her as the Queen of the Pinups.

Celebrated here by interview subjects ranging from Deeta Von Tees end Perez Hilton to Hugh Hefner and the Betty Pages publisher Greg Theakston, she appears in photos taken by members of the "camera clubs" formed to get around newly instituted laws and to serve the needs of amateur pornographers during the late 1940s. As these members reveal their own fantasies, their own projections onto their object (she was, as directed, "saucy, frisky, angry or sullen"), she suggests she found her own way to perform fantasy: "I would imagine the camera was my boyfriend."

This relationship to the camera is visible in most of the photos and footage of Bettie Page, perhaps especially in those she took with two women photographers, Bunny Yaeger, whom she met and worked with in Miami (together, they made the famous cheetah photos) and Paula Klaw, with whom she made a series of dominatrix photo spreads and films). These photographers recall their work with Bettie in ways that resemble the men's memories (Bettie was an open and generous performer), but with language more focused on their collaborations and their mutual understanding of their art.

In most of her photos, for al takers, Bettie looks directly into the lens, she acts a part -- horrified, surprised, doting -- and she seduces. This is, of course, her great gift, along with the body that wouldn’t quit, the extra-small and so ideal, waist, the bangs, the parted or broadly smiling lips, the bottom tilted up, receptive but also, just removed from reach. Her admirers all speak to her brilliant sexuality, her innocence, and her great openness before the camera. None says a thing that even the most casual pop cultural observer -- or Katy Perry or Beyoncé fan -- wouldn't already know.

Titillating as Bettie Page the dreamed-up image might have been and still is, the film notes in passing the troubles she suffered later in life. These life-plot details might also be known to most viewers, that during the '60s, she became a Christian missionary until the institution rejected her because she had been divorced. After that, she remembers in brief spurts of narration, she worked for Billy Graham, was married a couple more times (including a remarriage to Billy Neal), and had what is widely known as a "nervous breakdown." Diagnosed with acute schizophrenia, she spent a decade in an institution.

It's understandable that she doesn't want to recall these years for Bettie Page Reveals All, and to this end, the film is respectful. It doesn’t pry or sensationalize, but appears to let her tell her own story. But this is the trick of the film, or more precisely, the many cameras that revealed her for so many years. They didn't show much at all, but only allowed her audience to think so.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.