Judge Gordon Sullivan is a hardcore polka revivalist.
Recreates many of her now lost classic bondage films!
There is something that every well-intentioned rockabilly revivalist forgets: Watching Bettie Page, you can see that she's an innocent. No matter what kinky gear the photographer has her wear, no matter what she's doing to her partner, it never appears to dawn on her that she's doing anything even remotely naughty. She's like the anti-Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn could make "Happy Birthday" into a XXX experience, imbuing everything she did with her sultry personality. In contrast, Bettie Page gave even her naughtiest moments an innocence that makes her stuff stand head-and-shoulders above the other surviving shorts of that type. Mary Harron had the right idea, casting the innocent Gretchen Moll as Bettie Page (even if The Notorious Bettie Page didn't completely work), but the producers behind Bettie Page: Dark Angel went for an updated take on Page. As a result, the film will likely only appeal to hardcore rockabilly revivalists with a Bettie Page fetish.
Bettie Page: Dark Angel focuses on the last three years of the career of famous pinup queen Bettie Page. At the end of these three years, she disappeared from the fetish scene and wasn't photographed in public again for another several decades. Focusing on the last three years of her pinup career allows Dark Angel the opportunity to focus on her most fetishistic photo and video shoots, lovingly recreating her kinky appearances for a new audience.
Bettie Page is like the queen bee of the darker Fifties pinup style (while the Vargas girl represents the lighter side, for those keeping score at home). Since at least the rockabilly revival of the early Eighties, men and women have been looking to Page as a paragon of a style that has disappeared from mainstream media. Page was herself, existing in a time before crash diets and copious Photoshop retouches were the norm for everyone in a published photograph. Those who worship at the altar of Bettie Page might find something to enjoy here. Much of the film includes recreations of some of Bettie's more famous fetish shoots (by fetish here I mean a bit of leather and light whipping), and there's plenty of threadbare Fifties style. The people behind Dark Angel obviously care.
The film is not enough, however, to appeal to those not already enamored with a very particular image of Page. As I alluded to earlier, the thing that makes Bettie special is her innocence. By the time she becomes an icon for the darker, more fetishistic undercurrents of Fifties America, that innocence is destroyed. People trying to recreate her look now (and Dark Angel is guilty of this) miss the innocence in their attempt to capture the kink. This fact left me feeling that Dark Angel is totally redundant. Those who love Bettie Page are better off just watching her shorts or looking at her photos. Those who want to dig deeper are better served by Harron's film (though it's far from perfect).
What those not obsessed with Page get from Dark Angel is a very thin plot that doesn't offer any explanations (or even theories) about Page. Instead, it's a series of excuses to host recreations of her famous fetish moments. That might be enough in itself if the recreations captured even a fraction of what Page brought to the screen. Sadly, they don't. The budget for this flick was obviously minuscule. While the actors obviously worship Bettie, their love is too self-conscious to tap into the primal innocence that Page brought to her fetish shoots. For non-fans, then, the film is like a bad rockabilly Halloween show, with lots of decent costumes but not much else.
Like the film, Bettie Page: Dark Angel (Blu-ray) is a mixed bag. The 1.85:1 AVC-encoded transfer is fine as long as you keep the low-budget limitations in mind. Detail is fairly strong and colors pop, but this isn't going to be a rich, film-like experience—there's a slickness to the image that doesn't quite jive with the story the film is telling, though the 16mm recreations look better. The audio track is a no-frills Dolby stereo affair, and it captures dialogue well.
Extras start with eleven original Bettie Page bondage films from director Irving Klaw, the films of that era Dark Angel spends time recreating. We also get a short (10 minute) documentary from 1993 by Nico B. on Page's life. Then there are three featurettes on the making of the film and a deleted scene. These extras sound good (and for what's included they are); however, the vintage shorts have been matted to 1.78:1 from their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio (losing some of the vintage flavor) and several featurettes from the two-disc DVD edition didn't make it over.
I'm sure there's a market for Bettie Page: Dark Angel (Blu-ray). The late Page has enough fans in various communities who will want to seek out this. Perhaps I've been too hard on the film. Considering its budget and the obvious love that all involved have for Bettie, I should probably cut the flick at least a little more slack. Still, with that said, this isn't a film for casual enthusiasts or those unfamiliar with Bettie Page. Those viewers would be better served by a collection of her shorts or a screening of The Notorious Bettie Page.
Bettie Page still has her va-voom, but Dark Angel is guilty of failing to capture it.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Cult Epics
• Short Films
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