Documentary reveals nudie cutie’s sad life

“Bettie Page Reveals All” contains many disclosures, some of them strange, some terribly sad. But one of the weirdest is surely the description of a “Camera Club” in New York in the late 1940s and early ’50s, shutterbugs who trooped out of town every weekend with a handful of models to take pinup photos.

Such pictures, their subjects partially clad or entirely barenekkid, might be sold by mail order or to magazines like Wink, or Cavalier — you know, for discriminating readers.

Some of these (apparently docile) smut-purveyors are still around; interviewed for this documentary, they suggest the kinds of bottom-feeding oddballs from Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood,” but without the florid personalities.

The mind boggles at the thought of these blandly organized jaunts and the mixture of tawdriness and innocence they conjure up.

At the center of many of the photographs was Bettie Page, an unusually expressive model who was reasonably well-known on the underground nudie circuit in the 1950s but became a major cult icon beginning in the 1980s.

This is her story, and thankfully director Mark Mori has audiotape of Page recalling her life to string together the movie’s narrative (and its ample full-frontal photos and film clips).

We hear from a few others — the photographers, one of Page’s ex-husbands, and the inevitable Hugh Hefner — but the best of the film is Bettie Page’s matter-of-fact voice, huskily spinning her tale.

The general aura that surrounds Page’s resurgent popularity emphasizes the campy, cheerful, sex-positive nature of her image, but the story isn’t a happy one. Molested as a child by her father and sexually assaulted as an adult, Page soldiered on through bad marriages and a few life-threatening incidents.

She found God and quit the pinup business in the ’50s, spiraling into mental instability in middle age. Page says she enjoyed posing for pictures, even the bondage and spanking films made by the notorious Irving Klaw (a perfectly nice and mild fellow, according to Bettie).

As full of voyeuristic hot air as the film’s commentators are, it is true that Page’s spark leaps out of her photographs — she’s visibly thriving under the validation and reward she appears to be getting from the camera (So many good actors have that hunger to be looked at).

You can’t help wondering where that need came from, which is the troubling bass line beneath the film.

However much her admirers coo about the delight or empowerment that comes from those vintage pix, and however much we might appreciate the adults-only arrow aimed at the heart of the Eisenhower-era façade of respectability, the overall takeaway from “Bettie Page Reveals All” is sadness — and a lingering unease about the appetite that needs to feed on the flesh of ambivalent icons.

“Bettie Page Reveals All” 2½ stars

Documentary bio of the cult nudie pin-up icon, who narrates her own tale in a husky, matter-of-fact voice. It wasn’t a happy life for Bettie Page, which makes her cheerful, undeniably charismatic 1950s photos all the more puzzling — despite all the gush from her fans, there’s something sad about the story.

Rated: R for nudity, language, subject matter.

Showing: SIFF Cinema Uptown.

More in Life

Heavy Hollywood headlines: Robert Horton’s movies preview

In the midst of all the sexual-misconduct allegations, the holiday film season offers some relief.

‘Love, Chaos and Dinner’ an Teatro ZinZanni’s original show

The “Parsian cabaret” is a superb circus dinner theater operation in Marymoor Park through April 29.

Denzel Washington’s remarkable performance isn’t helped by plot

The actor is convincing as an awkward, eccentric lawyer, but unconvincing contrivances pile up.

‘The Breadwinner’ animation is strong, but its story is stilted

The Cartoon Saloon film never lets you forget that you’re here to learn an important lesson.

Pianist Kaitlyn Gia Lee, 10, of Mill Creek, will perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major on Nov. 26 with the Everett Philharmonic Orchestra.
Young pianist to perform Mozart with Everett Philharmonic

Kaitlyn Gia Lee, 10, of Mill Creek, will play the piano at the Music for the Imagination concert.

Liz Oyama as Belle, Jimmi Cook as Gaston and John Han as Lefou star in the Edmonds Driftwood Players production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” opening Nov. 24. Magic Photo
In Driftwood’s ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ Belle has girl-power bend

Edmonds Driftwood Players presents Disney’s adaptation of the fair tale Nov. 24 through Dec. 17.

Celebrate Native American Heritage Month with reads, listens

Pay tribute to the contributions of indigenous people to national history and culture.

New York tabs share ‘I’m With Perv’ headlines on Trump

Both are reporting on the president’s backing of accused Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.

Community dance events in Snohomish County

Dudes and Dolls Square Dance Club: 8 to 10:30 p.m. mainstream (rounds… Continue reading

Most Read