A more-than-ripe and doubly entendre’d film name, Bettie Page Reveals All is a title both titillating and truthful in ways we don’t expect. This documentary does more than its level best to make some sense and to tell a fuller story of the iconic “pin-up” queen Page, who died in 2008 and whose influence has been vast and ongoing, especially since the ’80s. Although her “modeling” career only lasted seven years, from nudes and nearly nudes for “camera clubs” in the early ’50s through kitschy bondage stills and films for Irving Klaw, to classic jungle-themed getups and setups with pin-up-turned-photographer Bunny Yeager, Page half-accidentally carved out a place for herself in the annals of American cultural history, and the story won’t quit.
Director Mark Mori does mostly due diligence as a documentarian, creating a portrait that doesn’t skimp on the variety of imagery in the Page archives (some more purple and pulpy than others), but always with the special joie de vivre and naturalism she brought to her gig. What really gives the film its charismatic juice is the authoritative and thoroughly charming narration by Page herself, stitched together from a six-hour interview late in her life. (She refused to be photographed in her post-modeling years.) As narrator, Page brings a chuckle-flecked frankness to her reflections about her high-and-low life and reasons, “I don’t believe God disapproved of nudity. After all, he put Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, naked as jaybirds.”
Mori also gathers a broad spectrum of interviewees, from Hugh Hefner to mega-church pastor Robert Schuller to artists and models who revered Page and helped nurture the Page renaissance in the last few decades of her life. Hefner, who rightly states early on that “it is very difficult to find a parallel for her, this combination of naughty and nice,” hired her as one of the earliest centerfolds in his fledgling Playboy in 1955, for which she famously posed clad only in a Santa hat. Schuller, who spoke at her memorial, represented the strong Christian component in her life after modeling (she also worked for Billy Graham). There are darker chapters in Page’s story, too, beginning with her dysfunctional family and a long stint in a mental facility in her wilderness years, before the Page revival brightened her prospects.
In an age when internet porn and sexual mores have gone haywire, Page’s modeling “body of work” — in and out of the altogether — survives with a singularity and dignity all its own. That’s just one of the re-revealed truths contained in this fascinating flick.