The Notorious Bettie Page is good in an intellectually satisfying way, bringing order to the typically messy subject of art, pornography and when, where and how one crosses into the other. Typically, a film like this would be done as a straight biopic, but what Mary Harron and Guinivere Turner have crafted here is no less complicated than Rashamon (1950). No, seriously.
Listen up — Turner and Harron have carefully constructed a four-dimensional portrait of a woman who was, initially, a rather innocent studio model. She was good at what she did, attractive and at ease with her body in a way that made nudity easy. She was many things to many people, even as those fantasies and figments overlapped and contradicted on another.The modelling was so easy, that distortions such as S&M, Fetishism and role-playing were a bit of a joke to her, even as she posed for pictures by the notorious
The Klaws, of course, were a brother-sister team, that ran a mail-order photograpy business, whereby people would send away for stylized ‘artistic’ pictures of costumed models. The Klaws were *not*. pornographers. But their collaboration was an odd one, with Irving serving as the product manager requesting certain kinds of pictures from his sister Paula, who actually posed and photographed the models.
Finally, this would also seem to be the break-out film that Gretchen Mol was unable to deliver during the 90′s. The girl has serious chops, convincingly becoming the Nashville-born Page as she leaves Tennesee and arrives in NYC, where she becomes “The Pin-Up Queen of the Universe.” One of the film’s most striking story arcs is Bettie’s transformation from Southern Girl to Shakespearian Thesp. The Connecticut-born Mol (b. 1972) convincingly sells us Page’s humble roots, before deconstructing both herself and Page. Looking back, it’s remarkable that the entire thing clocks in at 90 minutes.