RIP bettie page 1923-2008

this morning i learnt via venuszine that leo-pard pin-up and pop cultural icon bettie page has passed away aged 85.

in recent years she’s enjoyed a visual reputation as a kind of goth version of marilyn munroe, her oft-copied black fringe and glossy locks winking from keyrings, coasters and calendars. while her sultry 1950s self was blown up into kitsch plastic immortality, the real bettie shrunk into bible-belt obscurity and shunned the notoriety her taboo-busting poses had built up around her.

what makes me sad is that her image can be slapped across every tacky wallet and mug, but we know hardly anything about the woman behind the whip-cracking persona. however, working with photographers, bettie sketched an aesthetic that would eventually emerge from under shady black and white counters and into the mainstream. see helmut newton/ dita von teese/ victoria beckham for glimpses of how her light-touch/dark-room eroticism has influenced contemporary fashion, photography and performance.

in pamflet7, i wrote a bit about all the bad, shallow biopics that had come out over the past couple of years – bettie’s, marie antoinette, factory girl… how they barely scratched the surface of these scarred (in the case of edie and bettie), but fascinating women. surely they deserved some celluloid justice? hollywood:hell.

The Notorious Bettie Page: free speech manifesto? not
really. instead we watch bettie blossom under the male gaze, but when the lens is shut, she’s just a modest southern god-fearing gal and aspiring actress. the film rolls in ‘authentic’ black and white, switching to vibrant
beachboys-technicolor to distinguish between timeframes. it’s hinted that BP was abused as a child by her father and then by the first husband who she gives up college to marry. the film alludes to this history (which i filled in by looking at wikipedia) and then portrays her as an innocent, frolicking nude as if the trajectory of her life is somehow independent from her former mistreatment.

We’re not asked to question why she became the world’s first, fabulous pin-up, rather we’re invited to be impressed by ‘feminist’ director mary harron’s attention to period detail and gretchen mol’s lovely figure. disappointing. [from pamflet7]

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