"Bettie Page Reveals All" features the pioneering pinup telling her own story. Credit: Music Box Films
‘Bettie Page Reveals All’ Director: Mark Mori Genre: Documentary Rating: R 2 (out of 5) Globes
The documentary “Bettie Page Reveals All” — let that double entendre sink in a bit — has an ace up its sleeve, namely the actual 85-year-old Page giving her own account of her life before her death in 2008. It’s a biggie: The pioneering pin-up, who was so photogenic it’s impossible to find a bum picture of her, found God at the height of her celebrity and removed herself from the spotlight. The makers of “Reveals” were lucky to preserve her last testament on film — or audio, rather, as she understandably didn’t want the world to see her decrepit self, destroying the public image of her as a chipper, rarely clothed babe. (Though that does technically make the title a lie.)
If records set straight is all you require, then “Reveals” gets the job done. If you seek something that isn’t drab, sloppy and cheap, plus boasting a persistent score that sounds like a Casio keyboard stuck on its generic ‘50s lounge music setting, you might be a tad let down. Not that Page's first “authorized” biographical documentary needed to be slick, but the plain production doesn’t befit a legend belatedly — in fact, posthumously — getting her chance to be heard.
Not that it isn’t interesting, of course. Page (not very clearly recorded, it must be noted) is amusingly matter-of-fact about her life as a nudie queen, even when she was coerced into more naughty gigs. As one commentator notes, she’s one of the few bondage models who doesn’t look depressed: She strikes a fake-surprise pose, appearing every bit as game as she does when she's merely in her birthday suit.
Late in, the film takes on the “unauthorized” Page movie, 2005’s “The Notorious Bettie Page.” Page herself is said to have shouted “LIES!” at a screening. But this just brings up the question of what makes better art. “Notorious” may have fibbed, but it had a brilliant performance from Gretchen Mol and fervently avoided period cliches. It captured her essence, if not the specific truth.
“Reveals” has her voice but not her essence. It has her photos, a carousel of them flashing across the screen as she regales us with her story. (Often she’s usurped by others, including Hugh Hefner, who reminds us that, yes, the ‘50s were puritanical times.) But when it doesn’t have Page nudes to fill the frame, it turns to generic ‘50s footage (clean kids at the drive-in, clean kids at dances, etc.) It’s useful as a point of reference but lousy as a movie. It would, however, have made a beautiful coffee table book.