She was a frisky '50s pinup whose black bangs, blue eyes, and ability to beam out an it's-all-in-good-fun smile while posing in dominatrix gear made her a lust object then, and a pop culture icon now.
In Mark Mori's Bettie Page Reveals All, audiences get to see plenty of the "sultry siren" from Tennessee: vintage photo spreads, peep show reels, modeling shots and outtakes - with Page in and out of various provocative getups. But the most intriguing thing about this affectionate look back at the life and times of the sex model is Page's voice: The titular star narrates her own documentary.
Using long stretches of an audio interview Page made not long before she died, in 2008, at age 85, the film offers frank, matter-of-fact commentary that is far more illuminating than the talking-head encomiums served up by the likes of Perez Hilton, Dita Von Teese, and Hugh Hefner. (Page was the January 1955 Playmate of the Month in Hefner's fledgling glossy, Playboy.)
"Sometimes, I would imagine that the camera was my boyfriend," says Page, in a hoarse voice, explaining how she connected with the amateur and professional shutterbugs snapping away.
And while her bondage-themed shoots and nudie reels were deemed pornographic by the conservative standards of the day - and a target for crusading pols and religious groups - Page's view was all innocence.
"For some reason, men like to see women spankin' each other - why, I don't know," she observes.
A devout Christian, she also had no trouble justifying a job that required her to be undressed - or dressed in garter belt, stockings, and stiletto heels. God, she notes, "put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden naked as jaybirds."
Page doesn't change the tone or tenor of her voice as she recounts hard times as a child in Nashville (one of six siblings, she was placed in an orphanage for more than a year), or when she talks about her father, who molested her, or the time she was gang-raped in New York City.
Von Teese, the neo-burlesque performer and fashion star, contemplates the mythologizing of Page, noting that all the photographs, films, Page-inspired artwork, and her place in the postmodern pop firmament makes it "sort of confusing whether she's a real person or not."
Of course, Page was a real person, even if Bettie Page Reveals All doesn't ultimately go very far in exploring who that person was.
Bettie Page Reveals All **1/2 (Out of four stars)
Directed by Mark Mori. With Hugh Hefner, Perez Hilton, Dita Von Teese, and the voice of Bettie Page. Distributed by Music Box Films.
Running time: 1 hour, 41 mins.
Parent's guide: R (nudity, adult themes)
Playing at: Ritz Bourse