An amateurish and oddly paced documentary, “Bettie Page Reveals All” nonetheless turns out to be revealing, if perhaps not in the way its makers intended. Bettie Page, the famous pinup girl of the ’50s, was known for her dark bangs, fun-loving smile, enviable lingerie (much of it designed and made by Page herself) and trademark bondage photos; her style is echoed by numerous artists today.
Filmmaker Mark Mori, who befriended Page late in her life, conducted a series of interviews with her a decade before Page’s 2008 death. In a soft twang that reveals her Tennessee roots, Page here narrates her own story, illustrated by seemingly hundreds of photographs.
It’s intended to be, as several talking-head interviews throughout reinforce, a celebration of the “joyous sexual freedom” that Page symbolized. But ultimately, the story Page tells is a troubling one, beginning with sexual assault (as a child from her father, and as a young woman from a group of strangers) and culminating in many years of mental illness, including a nearly decadelong stint in a psychiatric hospital, following her time in the spotlight. The smile in the photographs is dazzling, to be sure, but something more complex lay behind it; something that “Bettie Page Reveals All” seems reluctant to explore.
With the exception of one haunting, weary mug shot, the film shows no pictures of Page beyond her modeling career (which lasted a mere seven years); a title card at the end tells us that Page said that she “would like people to remember me how I was in the photos.” In them, she’s laughing, smiling, seemingly carefree and uncomplicated. Outside of the photos was a story less pretty; one that’s sketched out here but not really told.
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Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org