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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Exotic Dances of Bettie Page (Blu-ray)
The Exotic Dances of Bettie Page (Blu-ray)
Cult Epics // Unrated // September 13, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted October 16, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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Although the pin-up girls of the 1950s and 1960s are a phenomenon many are aware of through pop culture, few pin-up stars gained as much fame as Bettie Page. Having graduated college with an arts degree, she traveled to New York City hoping to become an actress, but instead found bountiful work in the world of erotic photography, which at the time was restricted by the city's obscenity laws. She became famous as a bondage model working with Irving Klaw, who distributed the photos by mail. He also created a number of short films starring Page, 16mm shorts of her dancing, like a pin-up come to life. She found religion and retired in 1959, but her legacy lived on, gaining cult traction in the 1970s, and then bursting out of even cult fame in the 2000s.

On this Blu-ray, "The Exotic Films of Bettie Page", Cult Epics founder Nico B is upgrading a VHS tape his label originally put out in 1991, having managed to obtain many of the original filmstrips from Klaw's wife Paula. Included here are 12 short films, plus 4 bonus shorts: "Return of the Teaser Girl", "Bettie's Clown Dance" Parts One and Two, "Flirtatious Dance By Bettie", "Peppy Graceful Dance", "Bettie Waltzing in Satin Scanties", "Tambourine Dance", "Joyful Dance By Bettie", "Bettie's Hat Dance", "Dream Dance By Bettie", "Betty's Lingerie Tease Dance" Part Two (no Part One), and four "Kamera Klub" shorts, "Bettie Page Nude", "Bettie Page in Black Lingerie", "...White Lingerie", and "...Red Lingerie." All 16 are in black and white, and feature only an instrumental soundtrack.

I'm no Bettie Page expert, so I can't vouch for the overall authenticity of the movie, but Mary Harron's The Notorious Bettie Page is a wonderful underseen gem that presents Bettie as a wholesome girl who looked at her work as a pin-up as fun and frivolous. Watching these shorts of the real Page, the same brightness shines through, the same unbridled charisma and charm. It's easy to see why Page was so popular; even without hearing her voice, there's something magnetic about her personality, and the pure playfulness with which she dances. Seen in 2016, it's hard to imagine these brief segments being considered obscene, even 60 years ago -- leave out the Kamera Klub material and these clips seem practically wholesome.

In the liner notes for the disc, Nico B recounts that Page, in her later years (during the 2000s-era renaissance in which Harron's movie was made), was baffled that people wanted to watch these shorts, and at times it's easy to understand what she meant. "Tambourine Dance", in particular, feels plainly silly, and for viewers not watching them for erotic thrills, it's not necessarily that interesting to view a reel of plotless dancing shorts. Yet it's hard to deny, even at a glance, the historical value of these shorts as a piece of pop culture ephemera. Although "reviewing" the shorts in a traditional sense is impossible, it is possible to understand what a viewer might take away from the collection: a glimpse into the personality of a performer, and the energy or screen presence that they had which made them special.

The Blu-ray
"The Exotic Dances of Bettie Page" comes in a classy-looking black-and-white package featuring, obviously, a photo of Bettie Page on the front of it. The one-disc release is housed in a transparent Viva Elite Blu-ray case, with liner notes showing through on the inside (including a short biography of Bettie, a list of the shorts, and a note from Cult Epics founder Nico B). There is also a matte cardboard slipcover with identical artwork (although I don't know that there's anything special about it to warrant it being listed as a bonus feature).

The Video and Audio
Presented in 1.33:1 1080p AVC, these shorts are a pretty mixed bag. These are touted on the packaging as new 2K scans, and the notes from Nico B mention how much nicer they are than the VHS Cult Epics released years ago with the same title, but it's hard to imagine what those iterations even looked like given the shortcomings here. Detail is generally non-existent, with "Bettie's Flirtatious Dance" and "Bettie Waltzing in Satin Scanties" essentially looking out of focus, and "Peppy Graceful Dance" being so blown out that her face practically disappears entirely. The first, "Return of the Teaser Girl", and the last three of the primary features, "Bettie's Hat Dance", "Dream Dance by Bettie", and "Bettie's Lingerie Tease Dance, Part Two" arguably look the best, although "Lingerie Tease Dance, Part Two" has more contrast issues (say goodbye to Bettie's nose). All have print damage and many have jitter. Obviously, the limitations of the source material are completely relevant, and the shortcomings of the HD presentations here aren't really Cult Epics' fault, but it still feels like there is a pretty good chance that those excited to see 2K transfers will walk away feeling disappointed. Oddly, the 8mm "Kamera Klub" films look significantly better than the other shorts, and more in keeping with what I might've theoretically expected. All of them are presented with Dolby Digital 2.0 instrumental tracks of rock and roll lounge music.

The Extras
Technically, the four "Kamera Klub" 8mm shorts ("Bettie Page Nude", "Bettie Page in Black Lingerie", "Bettie Page in White Lingerie", and "Bettie Page in Red Lingerie", total running time 14:24) are considered bonus features, but that sort of feels like a cheat when their length is calculated into the packaging's "60 minutes" tally for the "feature presentation" (the "Play" option on the main menu runs 35:38). These are, factoring in both the nudity in the first one, and her performances in the other three, arguably more sexual than the main shorts, which are more sexy than sexual. There is no "Play All" option, but selecting the first film will play all four. Next, there is an "Irving Klaw Photo Video Gallery" (1:42), which is almost exclusively bondage material, with Bettie tied up and gagged.

The disc's one true extra feature is "Bettie Page Uncovered: The Private Life & Photographs" (22:30), which was shot when Ron Brem, Bettie Page's nephew, visited a California exhibit of Page's work. It's a frustrating bonus, because Brem is interesting and he has a wonderful gallery of photos of Bettie and his mother/Bettie's sister Goldie, but the first half of the feature, in which he is explaining the photos, is shot over his shoulder while he discusses it with two other people, showing them the photos on his iPad -- we never get to see the photos on the screen, full resolution, just an angled version on a screen he's holding up to the camera. After this section of the short, there is a brief Q&A segment, during which Brem is quite funny, offering a little information about family gatherings and his memories of Bettie.

Although "The Exotic Dances of Bettie Page" is a niche product for a niche audience, and there are obvious limitations to the product that Cult Epics has no control over, this is still a more than decent disc for those who are interested in Bettie Page. Although the mediocre extra is a downside, the disc is still recommended overall.

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