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‘Bettie Page Reveals All’: The pinup’s life story in her own voice

In her brief modeling career 1950s Bettie Page graduated from cheesecake bondage.  |  MUSIC BOX FILMS

In her brief modeling career in the 1950s, Bettie Page graduated from cheesecake to bondage. | MUSIC BOX FILMS

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Music Box Films presents a film directed by Mark Mori and written by Doug Miller. Running time: 101 minutes. Rated R (for sexual content and graphic nudity throughout). Opens Friday at the Music Box Theatre.

Updated: January 7, 2014 6:11AM

Since the details of her long-speculated-upon missing years have been filled in long ago in various biographies, there’s nothing especially revelatory about this new documentary on the life of ’50s pin-up queen Bettie Page. With one exception.

Page herself narrates her life story in “Bettie Page Reveals All,” with reminiscences recorded during interviews 10 years before her death in 2008 at the age of 85. It’s a remarkable thing to hear that gruff, growling, tough-old-lady voice in contrast to her eternally youthful photos, which so effortlessly radiate the pure joy of living (and, apparently, posing naked for money). The voice testifies to a lifetime marked by hard road and tough breaks, including sexual molestation by her father, being gang-raped as a young woman in New York and spending 10 years in a state mental asylum — and you can hear more than a touch of disgruntled world-weariness. Yet you can also still hear, now and then, a trace of her trademark vivaciousness and humor.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Page’s story is how surprised she was to learn she had become an internationally celebrated figure decades after giving up modeling, becoming born again and effectively disappearing, her reclusiveness going a long way toward fueling her iconic status. Posing for cheesecake photos wasn’t something she planned for anyway. She just happened to be very, very good at it.

After failing to find work in the movies and the legit modeling industry, Page found her place when an amateur photographer invited her to pose for him. Next came posing for amateur camera clubs, then the professional work that made her famous, posing nude or minimally clad for photographers Bunny Yeager and Irving Klaw — somehow conveying innocence and naughtiness simultaneously. Eventually she ran afoul of McCarthyism, thanks to Klaw’s scandalous bondage photos and films, and left the business behind at the age of 34.

Director Mark Mori, whose last feature documentary was the 1991 exposé “Building Bombs,” does an entertaining job of conveying Page’s entire life in her own words and illustrating why she has become a worldwide symbol of liberated sexuality. There’s a bit too much talk about that, it’s true, from a few too many talking heads. Fortunately, though, it’s never long before there’s another photo or film clip — and that makes it all worthwhile.

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