Behind the Bombshell

A new documentary about American icon Bettie Page looks at her life behind the images

While I can't remember the person I spoke with or the exact time I had my first Bettie Page conversation, I do remember some details.

A girl I knew was wearing her hair a certain way, and she had some sort of book or memorabilia with Page emblazoned on it. I had seen Page popping up here and there, but was unaware of who she was. My friend explained to me who Bettie Page was, why she admired her and the fact that she did her modeling in the 1950s.

That's a fact that has, and always will, amaze me about Page. She modeled 60 years ago, and her work looks like it could've been produced yesterday. I don't think there has ever been a more timeless human being when it comes to the art of modeling, and, yes, I'm counting Marilyn Monroe.

When I followed up by asking my friend where Page was, it was at a time where nobody really knew.

Bettie Page Reveals All, director Mark Mori's new documentary, features one of the final interviews with Page, and she often acts as the film's narrator. It contains much of her work, and plenty of details behind those exotic shoots that were way ahead of their time. It also goes into detail about how Page disappeared, the hardships she endured and her decision to re-enter the spotlight ... sort of.

We don't see the aged Page, but we hear her plenty. Her voice, of course, doesn't match those effervescent and infamous photos and films on display in the movie. She was in her 80s for this interview, and you can hear the years on her vocal chords. She reveals that many of her outfits—including the bathing suits—were designed by her. This is a fact I was unaware of before this movie.

As far as nudity goes, this movie earns its R rating. There are many, many pictures and film clips of Page naked, and I was actually shocked at the sheer volume of nudes she managed to do at a time when Sinatra ruled on the music charts and Elvis was just showing up. In fact, Page's pictures started going into circulation a couple of years before the world even knew who Elvis was.

Those nude pictures and films establish, over and over again, what an amazingly beautiful, perfectly structured, remarkably fun modeling subject Page was. She is clearly having about as much fun as a person could have in front of the camera, and that fun comes through in the large majority of her work and Page's own description of the sessions.

As Page reveals, that fun came to a screeching halt when she walked away from her modeling career in the late '50s. Page reveals that she simply thought she was getting too old to model, and her conversion to Christianity pretty much sealed the "no-modeling" deal.

Subsequent nervous breakdowns after some failed relationships and violent events resulted in her incarceration in mental hospitals. While her image graced the pages of The Rocketeer comic and other magazines, it wasn't until the 1990s that a true effort was made to get Page royalties. After a life of virtual impoverishment, Page finally began to collect on her works, and did so until her death in 2008.

This movie won't win over any new fans for Page. When Page herself isn't narrating, the likes of Hugh Hefner and Cliff Secord (The Rocketeer author) offer up unyielding praise of Page and her career. There are moments where it all becomes a bit much, and strange; the hardships and sexual assaults Page endured weigh heavy on the mind while hearing people praise her bondage films.

As filmmaking, it isn't an especially sharp piece of work. The soundtrack choices are mostly terrible and the transitions are choppy at best.

Flaws accepted, Bettie Page Reveals All is fascinating in that it does feature the voice of Page herself, and it's an honest account of the life that some say pioneered the sexual revolution.

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