Thursday, January 04, 2018

Gretchen Mol naked in The Notorious Bettie Page (2005)

Gretchen Mol - The Notorious Bettie Page (2005) GIF

Our readers chose this as the best nude scene of 2006.

My thoughts on the film follow after the jump

In case you are not familiar with the woman who is the subject of this biopic, Bettie Page is one of the most famous pin-up models of the 50s, and probably the most famous bondage model of that era or any other. Her most distinctive personal characteristic was that that she was just so "aw, shucks" wholesome and square in a world that previously seemed to belong to perverts and creeps. She was like Annette Funicello in the Marquis de Sade's world. Her presence in that world served to humanize it, and to make it seem normal. As to whether that was a good thing, I mist defer to the teachings of my spiritual mentor, the esteemed Dalton (the lead character in Road House), who would have said, "Opinions vary." On the one hand, Bettie's presence in fetishland made a lot of people with harmless fetishes feel more comfortable with themselves, and that has to be a good thing. On the other hand, it made fetishland a popular amusement world accessible to more people, and that might or might not be good.

I compare Bettie's cultural influence to that of the new type of strip club. When I was a young man, strip clubs were grungy, forbidden places filled with sleazebag managers and low-rent customers. There was a good chance that any given customer would get ripped off in some way, and there was a good chance that any given night would feature some kind of mayhem. The dancers seemed to be mostly, as Sinatra might have said, "run-down old broads" whose primary business was really selling themselves for cash or drugs. These days, the customers in "gentlemen's clubs" seem to be middle-management types in Brooks Brothers suits; many of the dancers are college kids; and the employees run the cash registers as transparently and honestly as the people at Safeway. If your daughter told you she was working in one of the new style clubs, you wouldn't celebrate, but you also wouldn't panic, because there would be no reason to assume that she was a junkie or a whore. Is the change good or bad? I guess it's probably a bit of both. I'm more likely to go into one of the new gentleman's clubs than I was to go into the old sleaze joints, and I think many guys feel the same way, so I guess it means more women people strip, and more men spend more time looking at strippers. I'll leave it to the sociologists to debate whether that is a positive or negative cultural development, but the point is that the business grew because it was turned into an unthreatening and pleasant experience. Bettie Page had the same impact on fetish photography. She made it seem downright wholesome fun, like your high school's spring musical.

This movie accomplishes the same thing. It makes everything that Bettie did professionally seem to be a pleasant experience for her which brought other people pleasure. Notorious Bettie will leave you with the feeling that you've been watching a Disney film, even though you've actually spent 90 minutes watching naked people and people in bondage gear. There is absolutely nothing unpleasant in the experience of watching The Notorious Bettie Page. It stays close to the facts as they are known, it reproduces some of her modeling experiences as accurately as possible, and it features a performance by Gretchen Mol that seems to evoke perfectly Bettie's innocent spirit and radiant smile. Unfortunately, there's nothing so very interesting about it either. The film doesn't evoke any great feeling of nostalgia for the era. It has no special point. It often drifts aimlessly and dispassionately through its paces. It does not criticize Betty, nor does it find fault with those in power who wanted to stop the circulation of bondage films. The tone is absolutely neutral, and the presentation is completely even-handed. The film portrays the people who work in fetish films as average joes and josephines carrying their lunch-pails to work and making a buck. The cops and senators who prosecuted them are pictured the same way - just doing their jobs, sincerely believing in what they say, really trying to do good for society. The film is refreshingly lacking in cynicism, but it leans so far in the opposite direction that it's also completely devoid of any point of view.

People say there is a fine line between wholesome and bland. Maybe there is no line at all, because I found this film to be both.

Gretchen Mol looks great both naked and dressed, however, and I have no problem watching her hang out for 90 minutes. Her nudity made her the winner of our annual balloting for the best nude scene. By all means watch it for that reason alone, because she is that beautiful and that naked, and in good light. Just understand that there's nothing more to the film other than supplying a context, or maybe a pretext, for Gretchen's beautiful nudity.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

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