Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Notorious Bettie Page

The Notorious Bettie Page (Mary Harron, 2006) [5]

This film is a valiant effort, but still left me unfulfilled and/or questioning the choices being made. Gretchen Mol gives a stand-out performance of Bettie Page but the story itself leaves me wondering where the story is. It's not really that interesting. What is interesting is the stylistic choices that Mary Harron uses. The film succeeds in re-creating the look of a 1950s film, from the black and white that composes most of the film, down to the Super 8 footage and splashes of bright Technicolor of the era. I'm not sure if I like this though; I'm certainly impressed with the detail and effort put into creating the look but I find no real strong aesthetic reason why Harron chooses to do what she does. But let's get back to the story. The film isn't so much about Bettie Page herself as a film about sexuality in the 50s. The film plays into the thought of how ridiculous and obsolete sexual mores in the 50s would become with the sexual revolution, as well as all the overblown censorship issues. It comes as a last gasp of innocence and naivety before a more realistic portrayal of sexuality becomes the norm. At least that's how I see it. Bettie herself is the living embodiment of this: a naive (this could be debated) Southern girl willing to do bondage pictorials because it will make somebody happy. That appears to be the outgoing message of the film, but Mol, by her performance makes more of it. She plays Bettie as innocent and just wanting to please, but there's an underlying slyness in her performance in that Bettie seems to know what she's doing is much more than that. The film also makes a point of Bettie's spirituality but another dichotomy lies here to. While no means promiscuous, Mol as Bettie certainly knows how to use her new found sexuality and power to enjoy herself. It's only at the end when everything comes crashing down around her that Bettie finds her true way to me. That very well be true in essence but in the world of the film, it feels unearned. A good performance by Mol almost gets wasted by the confusing nature of the rest of the film.

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