Cinema Signals by Jules Brenner:

The Reel Bettie Page
in a 3-DVD set

. "The Notorious Bettie Page"

It's not too often that an otherwise characterless movie comes along that captivates by the sheer power and personality of a single performance. Talk about "carrying" a movie. This picture is Gretchen Mol. Let there be no misunderstanding that the mostly black-and-white evocation of the real Bettie Page, a pin up model of the fifties is, by itself, all that compelling.

The magnetism is Mol. The beauty. The body. The disarming quality of the personality. In a time of Keira Knightley, Amanda Peet, Angelina Jolie and Hilary Swank, my heart is with Mol as the simple Nashville girl who studied acting and made a living out of posing. It's a breakout role I haven't been so excited about since Naomi Watt's career defining moment in "Mulholland Drive."

She posed relatively innocently for groups of photographers, she auditioned for parts in minor productions, she was a pinup, she was a vixen in bondage getup. If this representation is to be believed, she had a firm moral compass and never suspected what deviant demographic her photos were appealing to. But one suspects that the darkest side of Ms. Page's life and work is being studiously avoided for commercial reasons, but that's okay in my book.

The fifties was a relatively mild time in the world of porn and softcore, before court tests were to completely break down all legal barriers and restraint, as it exists today. When senate hearings and diocesian condemnation rose into the headlines, the sex industry quivered. It was a time when pornographers were meek and confined mostly to an underground netherworld.

Besides wholesomeness, innocence and a smile that could melt film emulsion, Ms. Page had a natural instinct for posing, an absolute gift and gold mine for the lucky softcore photographer/filmmakers who supported her as a cottage industry. Catch her in the right mood and she'll even go frontal for you. But the important thing is how her ebbulient personality and high spirit made it more wholesome than depraved.

Films with and about Bettie Page aren't new. This one's preceded by "Bettie Page: Dark Angel" (with Paige Richards in the title role) in 2004. Judging by the DVD cover she may not have been as innocent as this movie suggests, perhaps willing to go as far into sexual simulation as the law allowed. Her own 3 films were made in the fifties for softcore king Irving Klaw: The Bettie Page Collection, Bettie Page: Pin Up Queen, and Bettie Page: Bondage Queen are still available (see link upper left).

If the fetching Ms. Mol's portrayal isn't enough to charm and beguile you, stay for the first part of the end titles. The in-character adorability of her dance should do it. It's an award quality moment and I don't think being seduced by it is a gender thing.

As a warning for those who don't approve of frontal nudity, be advised. For those who love a little prurience, see below.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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