The Notorious Bettie Page

Possible spoilers on this post for the movie referenced above. You’ve been warned.

I love Cinema 21. Such a cool old independent movie house. Union shop, even. And I think they’ve done a little renovation since last I was there – looked cleaner, and the heating and air-conditioning seemed to be actually working. I love sitting in the balcony. Multiplexes don’t have balconies. Stadium seating is nice for the view, but it’s still a distant second to sitting in the balcony.

I was at C21 to see “The Notorious Bettie Page”, a biopic of the 1950s-era pinup model. I wasn’t sure what to expect – serious story or cheese? Frankly, I didn’t know much about Bettie Page beyond the fact that she was a busty brunette that seemed to become an icon.

But seeing the first scene with Gretchen Mol as Bettie, waiting outside a Senate hearing room, reading a letter from her sister back home in Nashville… Mol played the part with an amazing innocence and flirtatious charm. She seemed to be a girl who wanted to just have fun, found it hard to say no, and rarely saw any downside to accepting an invitation or request of any kind.

Of course, that led her into trouble, as she sometimes said “yes” to the wrong kind of guy. But the message of the film, at least what I took from it, was that trouble wasn’t a reason to mope.

The movie was light and campy, and fun, even with the heavier scenes at the beginning, they don’t weigh the film down with a lot of introspection. On reflection, I find this a bit surprising, but during the movie I just laughed along and enjoyed the naive way Bettie approached her modeling – even when she was tightly bound in a black corset and wielding a riding crop, Mol had this goofy, “Ain’t this fun?” grin on her face and a playful spark in her eyes.

Most of the movie is shot in black-and-white, which matched the feel of New York City where most of the action took place. When Bettie runs off to Miami for a vacation and a romp with a tanned beach boy, the movie bursts into bright primary colors, like Dorothy in the Land of Oz. That color shift also prompted an appreciative chuckle from me and the audience.

Don’t look to the movie for any deep thoughts on pornography or women’s issues. The Senate investigation is played for laughs, as Senator Kefauver (played by David Straithairn as exactly the kind of stuffed shirt that Edward R. Murrow, played by Straithairn brilliantly in “Good Night And Good Luck”, would enjoy taking down) leans in and with a subtle leer demands more information from his witnesses about bondage.

If it’s this fun, who could restrain themselves?