Dir. Mary Harron. US.2005. 91mins.
The detachment from hersubject that Mary Harron successfully kept with her screen adaptation of AmericanPsycho (2000) is in evidence again with The Notorious Bettie Page -although the end result is less compelling.
With Bret Easton Ellis'novel, Harron and co-writer Guinevere Turner delivered a chilling and darklyfunny slice of cinema. But here her examination of the life of 1950s pin-upgirl Bettie Page, while enjoyable enough, leaves the audience asking 'Why shouldI care''
The subject alone - the riseand virtual disappearance of the most famous bondage and discipline model -will be enough to draw in some audiences, and there are enough modest starnames, including Gretchen Mol, to generate indie energy.
US box office should beboosted by the still-strong legion of Page fans, and this relatively small butvocal demo will be looked to for their stamp of approval on the film. A nuancedand gutsy performance by Gretchen Mol, the creative and production credits ('Fromthe makers of the critically acclaimed I Shot Andy Warhol and theAcademy Award-nominated Far From Heaven') and the titillatingsubject matter will also contribute to decent returns.
Non-US theatricalperformance may depend largely on the social mores and censorship laws of theterritories in question. The fetishistic nature of the film, as well as thecopious amounts of nudity, might present a stumbling block in some countries,but there is enough to enable marketers to sell the film in most places. On thedownside, the cast is less well known than it is at home.
Ancillary markets are likelyto prove significantly more lucrative, however, as those unwilling to pay fullfare at the box office may well venture to rental markets.
Gretchen Mol is revelatoryas the God-fearing southern girl who enjoys a sudden rise to international pinup star, perfectly embodying Bettie's innocence about nudity and fetishphotography.
An actress at heart, Mol'sBettie looks at the corsets, ball gags, restraints and spiked heels as a gameof dressing up. Page regarded the men who were aroused by this material asotherwise perfectly normal people who exhibited a few eccentricities, and foundthat many of those she met in the business were more apt to treat her as familythan her own family often did. It's an admirable outlook one wishes were heldby more people in the world, but one that does not, alas, carry this film.
There are allusions tosexual abuse by her father but these are barely touched upon. Bettie is orallygang-raped in the woods outside of Nashville shortly after her first divorceand yet she is shown to be eternally innocent, in an almost child-like way andat times comes over as being constantly duped.
Little information issupplied on Bettie's post-modelling life, as she rapidly became the Greta Garboof the pin-up set, dropping off the face of the earth after she quit in 1957.
Cinematography is solid butat times the pacing feels choppy and the editing forced, as if the film hasbeen cut at the last minute.
John Wells Productions
Jonathan M Woodward