It took decades to recover her from the kinky cubbyholes of pop culture to the prominence she enjoys today, but famed pin-up queen Bettie (or Betty) Page has attained full iconic status, thanks in no small measure to collectors of her '50s photos and a vibrant Internet underground.
After several documentaries and published biographies in recent years, most of which dwelled on the seamy side, now comes writer-director Mary Harron's feature film, "The Notorious Bettie Page," the latest offering from new distributor Picturehouse Films, a company launched by HBO and New Line Cinema last April.
Page was "The Pin-Up Sensation That Shocked The Nation!" Or at least shocked the blue noses in the federal government of the day. But no one could suppress for long the playfully voluptuous muse of photographer and soft-porn maven Irving Klaw, who had countless young (and not so young) men covertly turning the "Page." Today, enjoying a Renaissance, the lady fascinates almost as many women.
Harron, who wrote the screenplay with Guinevere Turner, cast Gretchen Mol ("The Shape of Things," "The Cradle Will Rock") in the title role, along with supporting players Lili Taylor (as photographer Paula Klaw), David Strathairn (as porn-smasher Estes Kefauver) and Molly Moore (as the young Bettie Page). Mol is a curious choice physically, since any number of brunette actresses look a great deal more like Page. But she also projects that blend of freshness and fragility and sadness exceptionally well, qualities the real Bettie Page ? a sweet, somewhat naive Southern girl ? knew all too well in a life that's had its share of tragedy.
A former punk-rock reporter, Harron came to filmmaking from British TV documentaries. Something of a indy film cult figure, albeit one whose movies don't always live up to the hype, Harron made the jump to features with "I Shot Andy Warhol" (1996), the story of radical feminist Valerie Solanas (Lili Taylor delivering a powderkeg performance in an otherwise tepid movie). Harron also wrote and directed "American Psycho" (2000), again a movie of mixed virtues, with a gruesome performance by Christian Bale.
Scheduled for limited release March 10, "The Notorious Bettie Page" could be right up Harron's alley. Just as easily, it could be exploitation, or just another clumsy attempt at a filmed manifesto.
Word has it the real Ms. Page, now in her 80s, has not seen the film. We're just happy she's happy again.
Think Jennifer Aniston, or perhaps Kate Beckinsale. The lovely, young, not-quite "Everywoman." If any recent book is a natural for translation into film it has to be the just-released "The Year of Yes" (Hyperion), Seattle playwright Maria Dahvana Headley's amusing memoir of a year in the dating wars. But not just any year. Frustrated by her own questionable taste in men, she vowed to place the future of her love life in the hands of fate. This, by saying "Yes" for 12 months to every guy who asked her out on a date.
All 150 of them.
Set aside the unlikely notion of a woman being asked out 150 times in 365 days. Could happen. But it seems implausible, given the competition. In any case, Headley's suitors included a techno-millionaire who still lived with his mother, a homeless man convinced he was Jimi Hendrix, a subway conductor (and his sombrero-wearing pet iguana), a salsa-dancing septuagenarian, a mime and even her one-time high school nemesis.
Like many people, she had a checklist (conscious or unconscious) of specific qualities that should be embodied by an ideal partner. But after interactingpartner. But after interacting with so many chaps, she found that 1) Perfect didn't exist, and 2) Perfect wasn't the point. "There are fascinating people everywhere," Headley writes, "and all you have to do is smile and make eye contact with them. Start with one stranger a week. Pretend you live in a tiny town full of people who each have something to teach you. Now get to know them."
By the way, she found her man. Playwright, screenwriter and father of two, Robert Schenkkan.
Meanwhile, as we wait for the DVD release (March 21) of "Capote, 2006," we can look forward to the video debut of two intriguing films ? one new, one old.
Out this week from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is "Nine Lives," a series of female character studies told in vignettes that embodies one character's remark that "Each woman is a universe." Too episodic for its own good at times, and sometimes diluted by its insistence on quick takes of its characters, this still-strong 2005 literary adaptation is directed by Rodrigo Garcia (son of novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez).
Its large cast features Glenn Close, Sissy Spacek, Kathy Baker, Amy Brenneman, Holly Hunter, Robin Wright-Penn, Mary Kay Place, Kathy Baker and Elpidia Carrillo among the women, plus Stephen Dillane, William Fichtner, Jason Isaacs, Joe Mantegna, Ian McShane and Aidan Quinn among the men.
But the real gem is to come. Unsparing and controversial in its day, "Midnight Cowboy" lassoed 1969 Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director (John Schlesinger) and Best Screenplay. Both its lead actors, Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight, also were nominated.
On March 7, you can rediscover this gritty saga of two outcasts who find friendship on the mean streets of New York when SPHE releases "Midnight Cowboy: Collector's Edition." The digitally remastered film arrives as a two-disc set, complete with new interviews with Hoffman and Voight, a tribute to the late John Schlesinger and a collectible booklet.
The "culture jamming" and "billboard liberation antics" of a pop-iconoclast is chronicled in the documentary "POPaganda: The Art and Crimes of Ron English," which follows a thorn in the side of the advertising world as he brings his own message to audiences through billboards and other forms of outdoor marketing.
Called by some the Robin Hood of Madison Avenue, English, with his confrontational art, dares to subvert corporate advertising by challenging consumers "to view these images in a different light and reminding them that free speech is a valuable commodity."
The video is due out March 28 from Cinema Libre Studio (cinemalibrestudio.com).
Also slated for release by CLS is "The Shape of the Future," the latest in a long line of films to examine the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict and look for solutions to the core issues. The filmmakers interviewed people on both sides of the debate.
Bits and pieces
From David Kamp, author of "The Rock Snob's Dictionary," comes the next installment of snooty necessity, an A-to-Z collection of film legends, lore and information called "The Film Snob's Dictionary: An Essential Lexicon of Filmological Knowledge" (Broadway Books), due out Tuesday. Kamp is a longtime writer for Vanity Fair magazine, where short versions of these books first appeared. ... The venerable Joan Plowright stars in "Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont" ... "Happy Here and Now" is director Michael Almereyda's follow-up to his version of "Hamlet." It comes across as a fascinating speculation on what part the Internet will play in a world of isolated individuals trying to find human connection. Set in back-alley New Orleans of the near future, early reviews suggest it also works as a droll, atmospheric film noir on the collision of reality and virtual reality.
... "The Sundance Kids: How the Mavericks Took Back Hollywood" by James Mottram (Faber and Faber) comes out April 24 with an "inside look" at the renaissance Hollywood has undergone since the creation of the Sundance Film Festival, and where the fest stands today.
Oscar nominee FELICITY HUFFMAN, 43 (also an Emmy winner for "Desperate Housewives"), on finally getting leading roles in feature films like "Transamerica": "No one offered them to me before. I'd get three lines here, four days in a movie there. When you'd drive on to the set, you don't know where you're going, there's no chair for you. They're going, 'Who are you again?' This was the first time that I'd been considered for a major part, much less a lead."
Writer-director DUNCAN TUCKER ("Transamerica"), on his star, Felicity Huffman: "She reminds me of actresses like Rosalind Russell or Carole Lombard, those kind of good sports you could imagine hanging out with and having a beer. Really smart and fast-talking. I just had this gut instinct that she was the kind of transformative actress who would totally disappear inside the skin of somebody created from scratch. She wouldn't become Felicity Huffman playing Felicity Huffman as a transsexual but a completely new human being."