Saturday, May 06, 2006
The Not-so-Notorious Bettie Page
The other night a friend and I saw The Notorious Bettie Page. I liked the black and white parody of 1940s and 50s movies, but we still found it a little lacking in depth. I think this was Mary Harron's intent-- to argue that the tame S&M pictures and films Bettie made were harmless and innocent, or at least Bettie's participation was.
The only really good moment in the film for me was when Bettie's Meisner-trained actor boyfriend discovers the bondage photos and is appalled at how "deviant" they are. Bettie responds that the people who like those pictures are just people like everybody else, who just happen to like funny costumes. In one way, this comes off as completely naive, but in another, it's profoundly sophisticated.
Bettie's religious conversion at the end (she's "born again") seemed forced and ambivalent. At first it seems she's so personally hurt by her notoriety, that she'll do anything to wash away the stigma, including take it upon herself. But then it appears that religion is just another thing for which she has a natural talent. I wasn't convinced. I know the film was trying to accomplish something by glossing over the dark details of Page's life story, but I'm still not entirely sure what that was.
Speaking of S&M, there's a hilarious song by the Magnetic Fields on 69 Love Songs that both parodies and celebrates it as a country-gospel hymn. For some reason I kept thinking of it while watching the Bettie Page movie. It would have been great for the sountrack. The first three lines are "He is my Lord, he is my Savior / And he rewards / My good behavior. . ."