Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Notorious Bettie Page

Kathy and I went Friday night to see the newly released biopic, The Notorious Bettie Page, at the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar (for you out-of-towners that's a popular spot where you can order drinks and eat dinner with your movie in the theater). I'd never heard of Bettie Page, and we picked the film on the basis of a) we could eat there, and b) it seemed like lighter fare than Thank You For Smoking. Given my mood Friday, I might have chosen an interesting looking cartoon, and this looked like an adult version.

As always, I love the Alamo and the pre-film clips of real-life '50s pinup Bettie Page doing various poses in a variety of ridiculous outfits was as fun as the film itself. If you see the film there, go a half hour early to get a taste of the lady herself in action. Hilarious! (Great stuff, Alamo clipfinders! Your pre-show clips are my favorite part of going there - okay, the availability of food and booze during the movie is cool, too.) While the films were intended to be sexy and many were banned at the time, by comparison to today's average MTV video they're REALLY quite tame .. and funny, in a hokey kind of way. For whatever it's worth, the generation that's grown up with Christina Aguilera will see this film and wonder what all the fuss was about?

Gretchen Mol did a good job with a less than mediocre script that failed to explore the central questions raised by Page's art, such as it was.
Consistently the questions raised, it seemed, weren't answered, and the questions answered were pedantic and trite.

Was she really so "Golly, gee whiz" about it all or was the real Page more self aware and self directed, especially when her career was at its height? A gang rape portrayed at the beginning of the movie is left almost a non-sequitir - what were the psychological effects of this or other abusive incidents hinted at, and how did they affect her choices? Those subjects were not explored.

Neither did the movie enlighten viewers on the First Amendment questions that would have driven her self-defense when Page was subpoenaed to testify before Congress (she waited all day, in the film, then was told her testimony was no longer necessary). The whole matter of government reaction to her work was dropped. What happened? What did she think about it? Nary a word informs us in the film - the Congressional hearings were just an incident filmakers felt it necessary to portray, not an event through which they revealed anything about Page or the effect of her work on American culture and society. Her long relationship with an actor and continued efforts to break into "real" acting bespoke an internal conflict over her own perception of whether what she was doing was artistic or worthy, but the film superficially hinted at the theme instead of exploring it more deeply.

In all, I'd give the acting a B+ or A-, the script a D, and considered it overall viewable but disappointing for failing to draw more out of the story. That said, order a bucket of beer when you get there at the Alamo, and then the movie improves as it goes along.