After a highly successful festival run that included a win for Best Documentary Feature at the 2013 Garden State Film Festival, Mark Mori's revealing documentary Bettie Page Reveals All finally lands in theaters with indie distributor Music Box Films. The film opens November 22nd at New York City's Village East Theater followed by L.A.'s Nuart Theater and Irvine, CA's Regal Westpark on November 29th before doing an expanded release in theaters nationwide throughout the end of 2013 and early 2014.
Bettie Page Reveals All is an intimate and involving look at the rise, fall, and rise again of one of America's most recognized and controversial sex symbols. The greatest strength of the film may very well be that director Mark Mori, an Oscar nominated documentarian for 1991's Building Bombs, was able to make the film with Page's complete cooperation and authorization. It's no small achievement that Mori has crafted such a fine film without exploiting his subject matter, a woman whose boldness of creative expression and sexuality was so significantly before its time that she found herself targeted by a 1955 Senate investigative committee on teenage depravity.
If, like me, you are a child of the 80's and grew up with the resurging popularity of the impossibly beautiful yet seemingly innocent Page's iconic image emblazoned on just about everything you can possibly imagine, then Bettie Page Reveals All is likely to be one major revelation after another.
Born in 1923 as the second of six children to Walter Page and Edna Mae Pirtle, Page's early childhood experiences likely set the stage for a lifelong journey that always seemed to be defined by both trauma and triumph that ranged from alleged childhood sexual abuse and a brief stint in an orphanage with siblings to her graduating as Salutatorian (by .25) of her high school class with plans to head to college and become a teacher.
As we learn in Bettie Page Reveals All, and we learn a lot about the cultural icon who seemed to "just disappear" in the late 1950's, Page's life seemed to constantly be defined by that balance between trauma and triumph even at the height of her successes that followed her 1955 selection as one of Hugh Hefner's first "Playmate of the Month" selections in January, 1955.
Mori does a terrific job of guiding the film in such a way that we get a sense of the spirit with which Page must surely have lived her life, a spirit that seemed truly open to experiencing life in all its fullness. He honors the sanctity of the Page mystique while, with Page's full-on involvement, allowing us a glimpse inside her world.
Page's post-high school life began with as much unpredictability as did her childhood, beginning with an impulsive pre-enlistment marriage to high school beau Billy Neal that led to her living everywhere from San Francisco to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. By 1949, Page moved to New York City and began posing for "camera clubs" with a lack of inhibition that quickly made her a favorite. By the early 1950's, she was posing for photographer Irving Klaw in BDSM and fetish themed photos and short films that by today's standards seem somewhat tame but for the 1950's were extraordinarily risque'. The early 50's also brought about a bit of an acting career for Page, though her acting fame certainly never reached the heights as did her modeling career.
By the late 1950's, Page's career was winding down as she just sort seemed to "disappear" from the modeling scene. While there are different theories explaining her disappearance, there's no question that what you get from Bettie Page Reveals All is coming from Ms. Page herself. The way that Page shares her story is profound in its simplicity. Neither seeking to glorify her past nor apologize for it, Ms. Page's straightforward narration gives credibility to the idea that Page was truly one of America's most remarkable and outspoken feminists of the 1950's, a woman who was unafraid of sexual expression yet also unafraid to live into her strengths in different areas. The film also doesn't shy away from those aspects of Page's life that aren't so familiar ranging from her marriages to her conversion to born-again Christianity in 1959 and, perhaps most tragically, her experiences with mental illness that played a dominant role in her later life during the 1980's, oddly enough also the period in which her fame rose once again.
Bettie Page Reveals All manages to tell the complex truth about Page without ever looking and feeling like the all too familiar reality TV crap that seems to dominant the U.S. media scene these days. Rather than exploiting page, Mori does a tremendous job of explaining the entertaining and emotionally resonant life journey of one of America's most unusual cultural icons, a woman described by some as "Americana After Dark."
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic