Documentary filmmaker Mark Mori met Bettie Page through his entertainment attorney back in 1996. After reading the biography Bettie Page: The Life of a Pin-Up Legend, Mori was inspired to shoot a documentary on Page’s troubled yet ultimately triumphant life. Now out on Blu-ray and DVD (it’s also available as a VOD rental), Bettie Page Reveals All is Mori’s detailed look into Page’s history.
The project is actually narrated by Page, as her voice was lifted from Mori’s interviews with the late model (she passed in 2008). I talked to the Academy Award nominated filmmaker over the phone this week, and he shared a few insights about his subject. Although Page never allowed the director to put her on camera, the documentary’s visual detail isn’t lacking thanks to the plethora of interviews and photographs within the piece. Since a picture is worth 1,000 words, Bettie Page Reveals All definitely has a lot to say.
How long were your interviews with Bettie Page?
Well I did several lengthy audio recordings, a total of about five or six hours where I just tried to get everything. Originally, it was just for research. But her voice was really magic, her genuine personality comes through and I used that as the narration. I also have over 1,000 photographs of Bettie Page in the film and we used comic book panels and a lot of other things to illustrate her story.
The documentary starts off with Bettie Page’s funeral. Was it easy to receive access to the funeral?
I had Bettie’s blessing. This was the authorized documentary so people like Artie (Arthur Felig) the Camera Club photographer, Harry Lear her third husband, Paula Klaw from Movie Star News and even her agent and manager, I was able to get access with everything connected to Bettie because she wanted this film to get made. Anybody who was a fan of Bettie or wanted to hear her story told was interested in working with me on (the project).
What were your impressions of Bettie Page during your interviews? She seemed like a very strong woman.
Well that’s one of the things you get from her in the film. She was constantly overcoming tragedy and constantly getting knocked down, including ten years in a mental institution (Page was released from Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino County in 1992).
She was always able to pick herself back up and she just was very strong willed. She was just this force of nature and she didn’t try to make herself into something. She lived her life how she saw fit. She was an independent woman in the ‘40s and ‘50s and a sexual being that couldn’t understand why people had a problem with her sexuality.
One thing that’s not in the film that you get in the DVD extras is she talks about wanting to join a nudist colony. Feeling free in her nudity was actually a part of her being.
What are some of the other bonus features on the Blu-ray and DVD release?
In the documentary, you get a minute or two of a phone call that we arranged between Paula Klaw and Bettie. It was the first time they had spoken in 35 years. In the DVD extras you get the whole 15 minute phone call, a and you get a different angle on who Bettie is.
I also got from the Klaws nine of what Bettie called her “wiggle movies.” The old Irving Klaw movies where she’s dancing around in these 16 mm/ 8 mm films – we restored nine of those. For the purpose of the DVD we put them to songs to Bettie. There’s a couple of other original songs that people may have never heard before that we discovered or that people brought to us.
We also have more of Bettie’s voice talking about her early life and we have more special photographs of her that did not make it into the documentary. There are also a few deleted scenes from the movie.
How would you explain Bettie Page’s continued popularity?
It’s her authenticity. This is why her photographs are so appealing. She’s gorgeous but there’s a real person there. It comes through in her eyes and what she’s doing. There’s no artifice. She’s just being genuine. You get a richer picture when you hear her voice and see that along with the pictures. There will never be another Bettie Page and she wasn’t trying to be the world’s greatest model. She didn’t even understand why anybody thought what she was doing was a big deal.
Were Bettie’s final years happy ones in your opinion?
She did enjoy the attention. She didn’t want to go out in public. She didn’t want that kind of attention but she was flattered that people were interested in her. Between the money and the attention she was getting, she did enjoy her later years in life. One thing I heard was she would give pizza boys $100 tips. So she was okay.
What was is like to have a project and work on it for so many years? Even though it must have been a difficult process, is getting feedback from fans of Page part of the joy in doing the documentary?
It’s both. It’s a hard thing when you’re going through it. There’s moments of sheer terror when you think, ‘What have I done?’ Then when it works and it’s successful and I’ve been through it several times now, then it seems worthwhile.
In fact it was in the process of making the documentary when I began to (really) appreciate Bettie. These young women would tell me about how they had a pure emotional connection with her. It was clear to me that they were getting their sexual confidence by identifying with Bettie Page.
The dominant culture was giving a negative message that if you’re not some preconceived notion of beauty, then you’re really not anything. Bettie Page was a means for these women (to overcome) that and for them to gain confidence in themselves.
For more info on the Blu-ray and DVD release of Bettie Page Reveals All, check out its official website.