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August 18, 2011

Sex Kitten with a Whip: Nico B.'s Bettie Page: Dark Angel

The black-bob bangs, kittenish sexuality and near-perfect figure that was Betty Page is an image that has become iconic for multiple generations and alternative groups. Rockabilly retros, hipsters, punkers, S&M enthusiasts and pin-up fans alike all love Betty and really, who couldn't? A delight on screen and print, jubilant no matter how weird or absurd the set up, her story is one that has been shrouded with some degree of mystery. Who was really the girl behind the red lipped smile and black cone bra?

One film that dips into this territory is Nico B's BETTIE PAGE: DARK ANGEL. Less a fully

fleshed out biopic and more of a peek into her life around the time of working with Irving Klaw and his sister Paula, this film is a whole hearted tribute to the queen of the bondage pin-ups. Starring fetish model Paige Richards as Bettie, we get to see her attempts to break into acting, including starring in a badly received off-off Broadway play and get unknowingly sleazed on by Howard Hughes. (Though Betty, while gorgeous, does not seem busty enough to be his type. Keep in mind this is the guy that discovered the borderline buxotic Jane Russell.)

In between these interstitial bits, there are reenactments of some of her famous loops with the Klaws, with assorted whip dancing, tame sapphic spanking and a pony girl activities. While Irving was far from the originator of S&M in the visual arts, he was a pioneer of it, something for which he was thanked for by being the victim (along with Bettie) of a Senate subcommittee hearing. Something that is all covered briefly but well here, complete with showing the negative effects of the political and media pressure on the two of them. It was a few short years that Betty left modeling, became religious and disappeared from public view completely for over 30 years.

Now, if you are getting this in hopes of seeing an in depth biography on one of the most iconic figures in pin-up history, you will be disappointed. In lieu of that, you get a gorgeously shot valentine to a unique woman who had more going on behind her eyes than your typical glamor, Va-va-voom gal. Richards is fresh and lovely as Bettie, a role that will automatically have a baggage of expectation attached to it, but she is fine. (Especially given that she accepted the role as a non-actress.) The rest of the cast is good too, with Michael Sonye aka Dukey Flyswatter (and I thought Pez D. Spencer was a wondrously ridiculous pseudonym!) as Irving Klaw being a standout. By the way, keep your peepers out for a tiny cameo by Zara Kand, the drummer for the incredible Crystelles and uber painter.

The real heart of this film is the loops, that have even more verve and energy than the originals did. They run bit long but that is only true to the nature of the actual clips. In fact, if you see the word “loop” just expect to see something that initially titillating that becomes quickly gratuitous. It is, simply put, the nature of the beast, though Richards is great and the attention to detail is spot on. Visually, there is a great candy-like feel with all of the colors looking very rich and pretty. There's also some nice attention to detail for the era, right down to the simple but sweet furniture in Bettie's New York apartment.

If you love 50's pin up erotica and have at least a little bit of love in your heart for Bettie Page, then you should put on some cha-cha heels and check out BETTIE PAGE: DARK ANGEL.

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