Cult Epics presents
Bettie Page: Dark Angel (LE) (2004)
"Marvin, you know I have to do the bondage. I don't get paid if I don't do it. I don't get hurt and it pays twice as much as the regular stuff."- Bettie Page (Paige Richards)
Stars: Paige Richards
Other Stars: Dukey Flyswatter, Clinton Ehlrich, Oto Brezina, Jaimie Henkin, Kirsi Sand
Director: Nico B.
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (language, nudity)
Run Time: 01h:14m:12s
Release Date: 2006-03-28
DVD ReviewFor the uninitiated, Bettie Page (or Betty, as it is sometimes spelled) was a pinup model in the 1950s who shot to underground fame with a series of bondage-themed photos and film shorts, done primarily for photographers Irving Klaw and Bunny Yeager. These weren't graphic or hardcore, but the images reverberated with something electric. Then and now, Page exuded a refreshing, alluring naivete, and her brazen nudity and the kinky subject matter made her something of a cult star over the years. The early 1980s saw a resurgence in her popularity that has grown steadily. There are a slew of modern-day Page clones whose careers are built on trying to replicate that spark, and there is something of a cottage industry offering "new" Page collectibles.
That brings us to Bettie Page: Dark Angel, a 2004 film directed by Cult Epics founder Nico B. coming to DVD just a month or so before theatrical release of another Page biopic. Nico B.'s film claims to tell the model's story, and perhaps it does, but Page's case it's a matter of the singer, not the song. It's unlikely that anyone watching this who has never heard of her will walk away with anything but a cursory knowledge of her life, which is presented here in ridiculously simplistic chunks made all the more awkward by odd and frequent fade-to-black transitions.
But that's a problem for the newbies, and I'm thinking Nico B. didn't make this for them. With the underground market for Page-related merchandise, it seems understandable that a film like this is clearly geared toward the faithful, and that is where this becomes not necessarily a movie, but a sought-after collectible. It's an add-on to all the websites, books, figures, photos, and posters, and as a piece neo-Page hipness, Nico B. has succeeded in great waves. It's not a great movie, but instead exists as a stylish bookshelf item that is neck-deep in the mystique of Bettie Page.
Former Seduction Cinema star Paige Richards has the lead role, and when one gets past the blocky structure of the storytelling, what's ultimately left is her striking resemblance to Page, and an ability to channel that difficult to describe sexy innocence. Richards more than looks the part, and during some of the black-and-white recreations of the Irving Klaw bondage short films, her resemblance and mannerisms are so accurate it's almost spooky. It's a nicely done performance/homage from Richards, certainly an evolutionary step up from her Seduction days, and when she is left to carry the film she does so easily.
I'll admit I'm a moderate Bettie Page collector, with more than a few books, cards and even a cardboard standup. I've had the bug since discovering Dave Stevens' The Rocketeer comic in the early 1980s, when I learned that the character of Jenny Blake was based on Page (as was Jennifer Connelly's portrayal in the 1991 film). So that makes my interest in Nico B.'s film perhaps more fanboy-based than anything else. But I'm going to imagine I was the target market all along. Don't fool yourself thinking this will be some insightful biopic for the masses, because it just isn't. Sure, the colors have that bright, 1950s retro-feel to them, but it's a sometimes clunky parade of not much more than Richards-as-Page, plain and simple, though she does an uncanny job.
That's what a film like this is all about.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: A-
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: For a low-budget feature shot for less than $50,000, the 1.33:1 fullframe image transfer looks pretty impressive, most notably the whole rich retro color palette that replicates a 1950s feel. It was shot using a combination of video and 16mm (for those Irving Klaw short film recreations), and the final product looks remarkably solid. Colors are vibrant, and the black-and-white segments have strong contrast levels, so even a few minor flaws such as a bit of edge enhancement seem almost inconsequential.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo track has a bit of a sync problem during the middle portion, but it seems to stabilize after awhile. It's just minor enough to be something of a distraction, but not sweeping enough to be completely detracting. The problem does correct itself, but it prevents the audio transfer from receiving a higher grade. And that's too bad, because even though this isn't a particularly flashy mix, the rest of the audio delivers clear voice quality, and the music elements sound peppy and deep.
Audio Transfer Grade: C+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Dutch with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Frivolous Lola (Monella)
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Extras Review: Cult Epics gives this Page outing a quality packaging job, with the two-disc case fit inside a slipcase cover that hides some nudity that is readily available on inside cover. There's also a two-page insert, with production info written by Nico B. The feature, on disc one, is cut into 21 chapters, with optional subtitles in English, French, Spanish, or Dutch.
Also on Disc 1 is a set of short behind the scenes segments under the heading Bondage, Fighting, and Nudity—all narration free—that basically give viewers what is expected, highlighting Richards as Page. Some of the bits are setups for scenes from the film, such as Dressing The Pony Girl (04m:55s), while Fighting Girls (02m:09s) sports some chica-a-chica wrasslin' and Untying The Bound and Gagged Girl (01m:38s), Dominant Bettie (01m:44s), and Jungle Girl Untied (01m:53s) show Richards in various Page homages. A Bonus Nude Photo Shoot (02m:41s), with Richards posing on a bed, is also included.
A trio of shorts looking at the Original Music Recordings conclude Disc 1, led by Original Score by Zack Ryan (02m:30s), where we're shown the in-studio work of the recording of the film's hip retro music. Original Dream Sequence Scene with Deleted Score by Zack Ryan (01m:41s) is notable more for the footage of following a scantily-clad Paige Richards up a fire escape, and Just As I Am Performed by the Legendary Clara Ward Singers (02m:36s) is the redemptive number from the film, featuring the popular gospel group.
Jumping over to Disc 2, where Page-heads will get a bit giddy, because How To Pose Nude By Bunny Yeager (01h:01m:04s) has Yeager herself conducting a brief interview with Paige Richards, and then shooting the film's star in assortment of locales, many of which replicate famous Page photos. There's nudity aplenty here, but there is something undeniably surreal and full circle about Yeager shooting Richards-as-Page, and there is a beautiful retro feel to the whole affair. It isn't smutty by any means, and the involvement of Yeager gives this some real credibility, at least to Bettie fanatics, and it's hard to deny that Richards channeling Page is a bad thing to look at.
A pair of short bonuses include The Maid (:46s), with Richards posing in a French maid outfit and Date With Paige (02m:27s), a deleted scene of sorts with the star discussing her idea of a perfect date. A Photo Gallery of Yeager's features Bettie Page 1954 and Paige Richards 2004 is also included.
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsThere's a booming subculture of Bettie Page fans hungry not just for memories of the real deal, but a slew of modern-day retro models who have parlayed a combo of 1950s sexual innocence and bondage into something close to the next best thing. This particular film bio of Page, an oddly constructed pastiche of mood, won't win any dramatic awards anytime soon, but it fulfills a base need for Page freaks.
A film like this is tailor-made for the Page army, even if it's not particularly good, despite a great performance by Paige Richards. The film really looks the part, however. And as a two-disc limited edition set, with music (in part) from Blondie's Chris Stein, the supplemental content—How To Pose Nude By Bunny Yeager—almost surpasses the feature. Wink-wink-nudge-nudge.
Highly recommended for all Bettie Page fanatics. You know who you are.
Rich Rosell 2006-03-29