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The Notorious Bette Page

Review Written by: William Grady
Film: B+
Video/Audio/Extras: A/A/A+

Directed by: Mary Harron
Written by: Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner
Produced by: Pamela Koffler, Katie Roumel and Christine Vachon
Starring: Gretchen Mol, Chris Bauer, Jared Harris, Sarah Paulson, David Strathairn, Cara Seymour
Buy it!, Buy it, rent it or skip it: Buy it

There is something about the way director Mary Harron portrays "the pin-up queen of the universe" that doesn't make her a quarter erotic as she is adorable. Most of it comes out in Gretchen Mol's performance. Page is played as a very childish, innocent character who didn't know what she was doing (or why it was wrong). All Mrs. Mol, who turns an excellent performance here, has to do is smile and wrinkle her nose a little to melt the heart of the viewer. There isn't anything particularily sexy about watching her dress in bondage or all kinds of skimpy outfits and pose for the camera. The very warmth of her inspires more of a desire to hug her than anything else.

The film itself is told in a way to never think deeper than its title character (but allowing the viewer to see the implications of what's beyond). The Notorious Bettie Page is wonderfully atmospheric, nostalgiac and most of all fun. There seems to be something missing a lot of the time and that is an important supporting role for one. No character sticks with Bettie - they float in an out of her life casually and the film is filled with a variety of terrifically played cameos. The best of all besides Mol are Jarred Harris and Lili Taylor, who are both charming and hilarious. But it would be neglect to not mention, on the sidelines, Chris Bauer, David Straithairn (although it's a step down from last year's Good Night and Good Luck), Cara Seymour, Sarah Paulson, Kevin Caroll and Jefferson Mays, all whose screen time amounts basically to cameos. The move to keep Bettie more or less alone works in some ways and doesn't work in some ways. We are left wanting more and the end of the film provides absoluetly no closure.

There are impessive sequences depicting the ultra highs and lows - an extremely disturbing gang rape scene for the lows, a tennis match in the country with her fellow smut filmmakers for the highs. The film seamlessly moves between black and white and vibrant, beautiful color that resembles the color in a film like Gone With the Wind or The Adventures of Robin Hood. There are some characters that truly should have been developed upon, especially the one of one of Page's lovers who she met in an acting class. A sequence where Bettie poses nude in the woods is extremely erotic - given the fact Mrs. Mol has the most perfectly sculpted breasts I've ever seen - and the scene feels too out of place in an otherwise innocent film. It probably shouldn't be there.

All in all, the film is worth a watch. It retains that sort of nostalgiac, "band-of-misfits" that attracted fans of The Breakfast Club and Ed Wood. Although it almost never stops to smell the roses, when it does - ever so briefly - we feel we can keep smelling it long after the credits roll.

The sound quality and video quality are both excellent. Some blurry images here and there are deliberate, actual stock footage used in the film and should not be panicked over. The commentary by Mary Harron and Gretchen Mol is generally more insightful, helpful and interesting than most commentaries. A featurette on the making of the film is surprisingly interesting as well, perhaps because of the fact it gets interviews with a lot of people involved in the film: Mary Harron, producer Katie Roumel, art director Thomas Ambrose and actors Gretchen Mol, Christ Bauer, Lili Taylor, Jared Harris, Cara Semour and Jefferson Mays, among others. There is an (OKish) theatrical trailer and as well a fascinating old newsreel titled "Introducing Bettie Page" - an actual, extremely brief clip of Bettie Page fully undressing (but, like the film standards, we just miss the pubic hair!). It's a slight disappointment she is neither as beautiful by way of facial features or body features as Gretchen Mol, but she is just as fascinatingly innocent looking. If you could just see her face, you'd never guess she was posing nude for photographers.

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