Even though Gretchen Mol gave a brave performance in the 2005 film “The Notorious Bettie Page,” this documentary is the better choice, mostly because it has a generous helping of actual Page photos and movie clips, presented at a pace at which they really can be savored.
What the legendary model does not reveal are photos or footage taken of her after her pinup career ended in 1957, thereby preserving her allure.
However, director Mori was able to use an interview with Page recorded before her death in 2008. That voice, older, deeper and with a southern twang, provides the film’s candid narration.
Except for “The Notorious Bettie Page” — which Page saw and reportedly hated — her story has been mysterious and largely unknown. “Bettie Page Reveals All” tells it simply.
She was born to a mother who only wanted sons, and to a father that molested his children. Page married young, and quickly realized it was a mistake. She began modeling, and soon adopted her trademark bangs (she had a high forehead).
She worked with many photographers, notably Irving Klaw and Bunny Yeager, posing both in bathing suits and nude. Her photos were best-sellers in their own day. They eventually led to loops, or short, tame bondage films. After her modeling days, Page had a series of relationships, some passionate and loving for a short while, but none lasted. She had some psychological troubles. She eventually turned to religion and disappeared.
Years later, comic artist Dave Stevens (“The Rocketeer”) and Playboy magazine creator Hugh Hefner helped her get royalties from the Page merchandise that was still selling like hotcakes throughout the world.
Talking heads — including Hefner, Yeager, Rebecca Romijn, Paula Klaw (Irving’s sister), fanzine editor Greg Theakston and photographer Sam Menning — try to unravel the mystery of why Page was so amazing when so many other models were just pretty.
Essentially, Page was unashamed of her body and her sexuality during a time when such attitudes were rare. She loved her work, and that joy came across. Her honest beauty and her comfort combined turned into an appealing, erotic image: a combination of naughty and nice.
With the release of “Bettie Page Reveals All,” she becomes more of a real person. Her image remains unscathed, but richer and more potent.
Bettie Page Reveals All
Starring Bettie Page, Hugh Hefner, Rebecca Romijn, Paula Klaw, Bunny Yeager, Dita Von Teese
Directed by Mark Mori
Running time 1 hour, 41 minutes