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.