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Mary Harron
Gretchen Mol, Chris Bauer, Jared Harris, Sarah Paulson, Cara Seymour, David Strathairn, Lili Taylor
Writing Credits:
Mary Harron, Guinevere Turner

The Pin-Up Sensation That Shocked The Nation.

In an incandescent performance, Gretchen Mol stars as Bettie Page, who grew up in a conservative religious family in Tennessee and became a photo model sensation in 1950s New York. Bettie's legendary pin-up photos made her the target of a Senate investigation into pornography, and transformed her into an erotic icon who continues to enthrall fans to this day. Complemented by an ensemble cast of acclaimed actors, such as David Strathairn and Lili Taylor, the film brings to vivid life Bettie's fascinating world.

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$143.131 thousand on 20 screens.
Domestic Gross
$1.410 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.78:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 90 min.
Price: $27.98
Release Date: 9/26/2006

• Audio Commentary with Director Writer/Director Mary Harron, Writer Guinevere Turner and Actor Gretchen Mol
• “An Inside Look at the Pin-Up Queen of the Universe” Featurette
• “Presenting Bettie Page” Featurette
• Trailer
• Previews


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The Notorious Bettie Page (2005)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 8, 2006)

Back in the days before slutty models like Pamela Anderson became superstars, nude pin-ups were viewed in a much more scandalous light. For a look at one of the most famous of these women, we check out The Notorious Bettie Page, a biopic examination of her life and career.

Page launches in New York City circa 1955. A crackdown on pornography brings bondage model Bettie Page (Gretchen Mol) to testify at a hearing. As she considers how she ended up there, we flash back to 1936 to her youth in Tennessee. Young Bettie (Molly Moore) feels the pull of fire and brimstone religion but also understands her appeal to men. Unfortunately, negatives come with that, as her dad (Jack Gilpin) sexually abuses her.

We leap ahead to 1942. Bettie’s mom (Ann Dowd) won’t let her date, but Billy Neal (Norman Reedus) sweeps her off her feet anyway and the pair marry. When he turns out to be abusive, she leaves, though she continues to go through traumatic experiences with men. Eventually she leaves Tennessee and makes her way to New York.

As she strolls on Coney Island, an amateur photographer (Kevin Carroll) gets Bettie to pose for him. She likes this and launches into a new part-time career. Bettie aspires to act while she does office work, but her modeling becomes more and more important to her. Eventually she leaves behind the swimsuit; she does nude work and then gets into kinkier stuff. The movie follows her career path as well as her relationships.

Without question, Mol stands as the best thing about Notorious, and I don’t say that just because she goes totally nude – and looks incredibly good. That fact is a bonus; her fine performance is the meat of the matter. Despite the restrictions of the script, Mol creates a surprisingly three-dimensional character. She brings out personality facets of the role that allow her to overcome the part as written. Mol keeps us interested in Bettie’s life in spite of other problems.

And what are those issues? The main concern stems from the thinness of the flick’s psychological portrait. Bettie remains oddly innocent toward men, and that doesn’t make a lot of sense. The movie implies that Bettie’s dad molested her, and then we see how her husband beat her and some strangers gang raped her. All that, and she still seems like a babe in the woods? She stays bright and sunny throughout the film.

Frankly, I don’t know a ton about the real-life Page, so perhaps Notorious stays true to the facts. I simply find it hard to believe that a woman could go through so much abuse and not have it affect her. The movie doesn’t attempt to explain her move into porn as a reaction to her sexual issues. Indeed, it shows her as innocent in that area as well; Bettie never thinks the nudity or bondage are anything to embarrass her.

Again, this could be an accurate portrayal of the real Page, but it seems odd. Bettie occasionally hints that she worries how Jesus will view her actions, but she doesn’t seem too concerned about her judgment despite her fire and brimstone upbringing. Do those two concepts mesh? Not really, and that creates a gap in logic.

Bettie seems completely unaffected by anything that happens to her. The story posits her as intelligent; after all, we’re told she almost was her school’s valedictorian. However, the flick doesn’t make her out to be much of a deep thinker. She seems to just coast along without giving things much consideration.

All of this leaves Notorious as an oddly superficial look at Page. We get notes about her life, but they lack any depth. Even her positive relationships are shunted to the background. What makes Bettie tick? I have no idea based on this movie. It’s entertaining enough but it doesn’t present the substance necessary for it to become more than a passable diversion.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio C+/ Bonus B-

The Notorious Bettie Page appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The flick went for some unusual visual situations, a fact that made it tough to objectively rate the quality of the picture.

Most of the movie appeared in black and white. It went to color for the Miami sequences as well as a montage of Bettie’s magazine covers and some “home movies” of a shoot. The hues for those last two elements were intentionally flat, but the Miami shots offered broader tones. Clearly the film intended for Miami to be Oz compared to the rest of the story’s black and white Kansas. This meant some pretty vibrant colors in Miami, though I thought they tended to seem a little too heavy and weren’t as dynamic as I’d expect.

As for the monochromatic scenes, they offered variable clarity. At times it appeared that the filmmakers degraded the footage to match the source material they used. To set the scenes, we saw stock footage from the eras depicted, and I got the impression the stuff shot for Page was altered to fit in with those bits. On the other hand, plenty of pieces were much clearer, so this wasn’t a perfect rule. Blacks could be deep, but they also often seemed grayish and less than stellar. Shadows also tended to appear somewhat dense and murky.

Sharpness varied. Much of the movie looked fine, but wider images often seemed somewhat fuzzy and ill-defined. The softness never became extreme, but it created some distractions. I noticed no jagged edges or moiré effects, but some light edge enhancement came along with the package. Source flaws were essentially limited to marks on the stock footage. Modern shots appeared a bit grainy at times but lacked other defects. Overall, Page was always watchable and occasionally quite attractive. The visual drawbacks left it with a “C+”, though.

In terms of quality, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Notorious Bettie Page came with no problems. The audio always sounded quite good. Speech was consistently natural and concise, with no edginess or other distractions. Effects played a minor role in this character piece, but they were perfectly adequate as they showed nice clarity and accuracy. Music seemed smooth and vivid. Low-end never kicked into overdrive, but dynamic range appeared solid.

Notorious ended up with a “C+” for audio just because there was so little ambition to the track. The soundfield remained firmly planted in the front speakers. The surrounds may have contributed some light ambiance, but they were supremely passive throughout the film. Stereo imaging in the front was fine, but again, nothing stood out as notable. The mix created a passable sense of environment but never went beyond that. Don’t consider that to be a complaint, as the audio worked fine for this sort of story. I just didn’t think I could give the soundtrack anything above a mediocre “C+”.

When we shift to the DVD’s extras, we find an audio commentary from writer/director Mary Harron, writer Guinevere Turner and actor Gretchen Mol. All three sit together for this running, screen-specific track, though Turner doesn’t appear to be there at the start. She never introduces herself and instead just seems to materialize somewhere along the way.

Despite that oddity, we get a decent look at the film. The participants cover the movie’s tone, focus and story issues, research and script development, editing and cut sequences, character and performance choices, musical selections, photographic decisions, costumes, hair and makeup, set design and locations, and a mix of related subjects. Though the commentary drags a bit at times, it usually offers a nice view of matters. The three women interact well, and their voices are just different enough to ensure we can usually tell who’s talking. I wouldn’t call this a great piece, but it does what it needs to do.

Next comes a featurette called An Inside Look at the Pin-Up Queen of the Universe. It fills 14 minutes and 59 seconds as we find movie clips, behind the scenes footage and interviews. We find notes from Harron, Mol, costume designer John Dunn, production designer Gideon Ponte, cinematographer Mott Hupfel, producer Pamela Koffler, and actors Chris Bauer, Lily Taylor, Cara Seymour, Jared Harris, and Jefferson Mays. The show looks at the movie’s story and notes about Bettie, costumes and recreating Bettie’s look, other issues related to the movie’s visuals, cast, characters and performances, factual topics in Notorious and the flick’s goals.

Like most featurettes of this sort, “Look” stays pretty promotional. We get an overview of the production but not a surfeit of specifics. Nonetheless, “Look” is better than many of its ilk. A few nice notes appear, but don’t expect much detail.

A short clip called Presenting Bettie Page lasts two minutes, 43 seconds. This silent color film shows the real Bettie in the Fifties. She strips for the camera and poses a little. Some commentary about it would have been nice, but the nude Bettie’s pretty… stimulating, so I’m pretty happy with it.

We get the film’s trailer and the DVD opens with some Previews. We find ads for The Thing About My Folks, Ushpizin, and The New World.

When it succeeds, Gretchen Mol acts as the catalyst behind The Notorious Bettie Page. Unfortunately, her beauty and fine performance can’t overcome the movie’s inherent lack of substance. A flat and superficial story means that we never find enough depth to make the project involving. The DVD features average picture and audio along with some decent extras. If you want to see Gretchen Mol naked – and who doesn’t? – then check out Notorious. I can’t recommend this lackluster tale for other reasons, though.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.375 Stars Number of Votes: 8
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