A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
In the 1950s a pretty girl from Nashville named Bettie Page became the most famous model of her time -- in certain circles. Marilyn Monroe followed a nude calendar photo into Hollywood stardom, but Bettie Page's fame was within the specialist market of pin-ups and bondage photography. She was tied, trussed, handcuffed, chained and restrained while wearing high heels, nylons, garter belts, corsets and pointy brassieres, or nothing much at all, and yet her posing was so unaffected and her attitude so cheerful that she was like sunshine in the dark world of porn.
These things I know in a second-hand way because Page has been a cult figure for years, the subject of quasi-scholarly books and grainy videos. My friend Russ Meyer described her once as "the nicest girl you'd ever want to meet." Now she is the subject of a curiously moving biopic, "The Notorious Bettie Page," which is not very sexy or scandalous, nor is Bettie Page (Gretchen Mol) very notorious. "Celebrated" might have been a better word.
You might expect such a film would aim for scandal. Not at all. Nor is it an attack on censorship or prudery; it doesn't defend Bettie and the pornographers she worked with, but presents them as mundane laborers in the world of sex, finding a market and supplying it. Most of Bettie's bondage photos were taken by Irving Klaw, an unremarkable New Yorker who worked with his sister Paula. "Boots and shoes, shoes and boots," Paula muses to Bettie. "They can't get enough of them. Why? I guess it takes all kinds to make a world."
Klaw was one of the targets of 1955 Senate hearings into pornography run by Sen. Estes Kefauver, and retired from the business. Bettie moved south to Miami and worked with the cheesecake photographer Bunny Yeager. Then she drifted out of modeling as casually as she drifted in, becoming a born-again Christian but never apologizing for her work, because if God created the female form, why would he be offended by its display?