Bettie Page Reveals All

BETTIE PAGE REVEALS ALL directed by Mark Mori, written by Doug Miller. 101 minutes. A Films We Like release. Opens.

BETTIE PAGE REVEALS ALL directed by Mark Mori, written by Doug Miller. 101 minutes. A Films We Like release. Opens Friday (March 7) at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNNN

Hate the whole idea of the pin-up? Are you like me and think that pics of nude women sold to ogling guys are among the media images that prevent women from being full human beings?

Doesn’t matter. You’ll still be riveted by this doc about the original pin-up girl, Bettie Page. She became a sensation in the 50s as one of the first females to strip down for the camera and was wildly successful for seven years. Then she disappeared from the public eye.

Page died in 2008. But Mark Mori conducted a series of interviews with the icon, which he uses as voice-over for a myriad of clips and pics. Conversations with photographers and admirers paint a portrait of someone who loved her work – until she gave it up.

The film gets off to a rocky start, showing fans – many of them sporting Page’s signature bangs – who insist that she was a force for liberation and a true original. A reach, to be sure. Naked women have been on men’s minds throughout history, and there’s actually not much innovation in her photos’ and short films’ actual aesthetic.

Page herself was something else, however: open, fun-loving, creative – she designed most of her costumes – and weirdly wholesome. She avoided the tawdry, cliched facial expressions popularized in commercial mags. As one shooter put it, she smiled with her whole body, even in her infamous bondage pics.

Her pre- and post-pin-up stories are much darker. As a child she was sexually abused and fled her home. After leaving the business in the 60s, she became a born-again Christian, later struggled with mental illness and was hospitalized for 10 years.

Too bad Mori has no footage or photographs of Page in her later years – she wanted to be remembered as the pioneering pin-up. In fact, we don’t know how he found her or under what conditions he made the later-life recordings.

But watch carefully and there’s a ton of fascinating detail. That’s because Page herself had no agenda. She’s plainly having a great time doing her job, but she speaks openly about not-so-fun incidents: explicit photos emerged from a shoot she can barely recall because the photographers got her drunk her biggest-selling photo was taken during the only session in which she didn’t feel safe.

And though Hugh Hefner again sets himself up as a liberator – puh-lease! – you have to give him credit for getting Page set up with an agent later in her life when people were flagrantly exploiting her image for financial gain.

Yes, I did just say something positive about the Playboy mogul. | @susangcole

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