Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Review for "The Notorious Bettie Page"

The cult pin-up idol Bettie Page gets the full-fledged biopic treatment in The Notorious Bettie Page, a movie that somehow seems as tame and innocent as the naughty photographs Bettie made in the 1950s. After a few scenes of Bettie growing up, the film quickly leads us to her more-or-less glory years, when she posed for countless peekaboo photos and some nudie films. These would make her an underground star for decades--long after she gave up modeling for religion, in fact. Gretchen Mol, a premature starlet in a redemptive role, does nicely at suggesting Bettie's too-trusting nature, maintaining her equipoise in a sleazy world. Her nude scenes are as liberated and no-sweat as those old nudist films always wanted people to believe. Director Mary Harron plays most of the film in the black-and-white that Bettie thrived in, which seems fitting enough (although the Kodachrome-bright color interludes are welcome). There's an air of "Ed Wood" about the project, and Harron maintains a similarly jovial tone, but the film does have a tendency to fall into the and-then-this-happened metronome rhythm of film biography. Even a promising venture into the Senate hearings on pornography is a minor joke. Jared Harris and Lili Taylor, veterans of Harron's "I Shot Andy Warhol," play colorful characters out of the grindhouse world, but few supporting players get a chance to make an impression. The main draw is Mol's commitment to the role and the film's goofy re-creation of a most peculiar subculture at an unlikely time. --Robert Horton

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