Wednesday, December 27, 2006

I made out like a bandit this Christmas from my wife, my friends and family. Among my gifts were some cool DVDs. Here’s some notes on a few of them.

I received “Bettie Page: Dark Angel” from a friend and them used some Xmas gift money to buy “The Notorious Bettie Page.” Yes, I do like Page pin-ups and her story has long fascinated me as it’s one of those odd instances in which what was once underground popular culture becomes mainstream. Her story is also one of those relatively rare examples in which a very disposable kind of pop culture (pin-ups) actually finds new audiences despite changes in what people view as beautiful and/or erotic.

There’s a hand-full of women whose images seem to transcend fashion and Betty Page is one of those people.

The thing that struck me about both films is the obvious affection all of the filmmakers have for their subject. Betty is a likable, open person in each production.

“Bettie Page: Dark Angel” is a low-budget “Readers Digest” version of Page’s life and career produced and directed by Nico B, the guy whose Cult Epics company has been selling DVDs of Page’s Irving Klaw films. Taken on its own terms, it’s not bad once you realize the focus of the film is to re-create the Klaw bondage films. I’m not sure just why anyone would want to do that, but Nico B. did with obvious respect and affection.

Paige Richards makes a fine Page, but doesn’t have the material to work with that Gretchen Mol has in “The Notorious Betty Page.”

I had caught the second film up at the Latchis Theater in Brattleboro, Vermont earlier this year and loved it. Director Mary Harron achieved a fantastic look with her approach of filming the New York scenes in black and white and the Miami scenes in deeply saturated color. The result is a film that visually transports the viewer back to the 1950s.

As a biography, Harron seemed to follow Page’s story fairly closely and chose to end it with Page’s religious re-awakening in the late 1950s. As detailed in her interview in Playboy several years back, Page confirmed her years following her heyday as ones filled with coping with mental illness, failed marriages and poverty.

Page has been able to capitalize off her 1950s work and apparently was pleased with this movie. Much of the success comes from the performance of Mol as Page. Mol is able to look like Page much of the time and brings out that innocent, fun-loving attitude that Page always seemed to convey in her pin-up work.

The extras on “The Notorious Betty Page” include a “making off” featurette and a clip of a Klaw film in color with Page disrobing. She is obviously receiving directions from someone off camera and clearly not taking any of it seriously.

In a completely different direction, I was given a great double feature of classic bad Mexican cinema: “The K. Gordon Murray Collection: Doctor of Doom and Wrestling Women Vs. The Aztec Mummy.” Now how could you go wrong with these wrestling horror films?

I never saw a single K. Gordon Murray film as a kid, but I vividly remember seeing television commercials for his kiddie matinee films and thanked God my parents didn’t want me to see any of them. Imported from Germany and Mexico, these fairy tale-based films looked dreadfully cheap even to a nine-year-old kid.

These two films are truly a slice of a popular culture so foreign to American sensibilities that they seem a bit surreal. Yet for their time and place of origin they were acceptable pop culture that pleased many people.

And that for me is the bait. I love seeing something that other people view as entertaining.

©2006 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

1 comment:

Kip W said...

I've thought about going online and looking for K. Gordon Murray pictures. There are web sites for them. I'm most interested in the Mexican fairy tale imports -- I already have "Santa Claus," and "Reel Wild Cinema" showed extensive clips from a Red Riding Hood that was a real killer diller.

Then there's the Czech Cinderella, with the stepsisters mutilating their feet and the two henchmen who are essentially evil pudding heads. At the end of the movie, their punishment is having to stand in the town square and eat a lot of sausages. Ha ha! Look at those pudding heads eat those sausages, I tell you!