I appreciate Academy Award nominee Mark Mori wanting to “reveal all” about pinup model Bettie Page with his new doc literally titled Bettie Page Reveals All, but I feel as if he may have gone too far right out of the gate.
The documentary gives viewers a confidential look into Page’s life whilst using vintage privy interview answers from the model herself to string along narration.
The documentary’s structure could – and sometimes does – work wonders for Mori to bring truth to his work, and to rightfully respect Page’s life and image. My problem with his execution is his underdeveloped knowledge of how to work this filmmaking angle.
Bettie Page Reveals All begins with lots of famous faces singing praise for Page’s “naughty but nice” influence on pop culture. Burlesque performers and fashionistas join in as well. This is a good enough start. These scenes are here to foreshadow how subversive Page’s playfully sexual work will become.
These clips are then followed by cutaways from Page’s funeral service, where we see close friends and family in mourning. These scenes are only here to establish that the film’s iconic subject has passed on. Wasn’t there an alternate way to depict this that didn’t feel so…nosy?
Already, Mori oversteps as a documentarian. I can’t speak for everyone but personally, these segments made me feel as if I was intruding on something very personal. I know Mori has to live up to his title’s name, but private functions like these should be off limits. It’s an unwritten rule.
The next few scenes give movie goers an unsheltered look at Bettie Page’s life before the fame. Hearing a deceased Page describe the abuse she was put through as a child and through her budding life in New York is supremely tough to listen to. The audio track Mori is sampling from also sounds as if it’s eroding, which makes us have to lean in and listen more carefully to Page’s unsettling recapping.
As someone who knew very little about Bettie Page’s life and career before entering Bettie Page Reveals All, Mark Mori actually does a decent job informing. The condition of the audio gradually cleans itself up, making Page’s narration easily attainable. The journey is straightforward and memorable, and that feeling of being an intruder is shown the door.
What doesn’t measure up is how technically inadequate the actual doc is when placed beside its subject’s vital life. It hurts the film’s credibility.
Mori has obviously been inspired by 2002’s film adaption of Robert Evans autobiography The Kid Stays in the Picture. He takes pictures from Page’s past, and animates them to her speech. However, The Kid Stays in the Picture found an ebb and flow with Evans’ readings. Mori’s doc, on the other hand, feels too much like a slideshow – a cheap one, at that.
The doc doesn’t have the appearance of a movie that’s been thoughtlessly slapped together, but the condition of Bettie Page Reveals All is in critical shape. Different uses of footage ranging from degraded footage to cartoons don’t find an even balance with the material, and a fair amount of images don’t play well when blown up. Graphics and subtitles look flat and unappealing as well. This is an example of a slipshod doc that desperately needed more post-production polishing.
But, just like Mori’s boundary misstepping, the doc eventually fixes itself and turns in some strong work. Unfortunately, the quality control shapes up just as the film is winding down.
The filmmaker’s wisest decisions are with the inclusion of outsiders lending their perspectives on Page’s sexual significance. Most of these opinions pop up during the latter part of the film, which breaks up the doldrums and adds a refreshing change of pace to the documentary.
There’s no denying that with more time, Bettie Page Reveals All wouldn’t have looked and felt so shabby. Luckily, there’s enough content in the doc to avoid it being a write-off altogether. But, how much technical clumsiness will audiences endure in order to get to the centre of this craggy Tootsie Pop?