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No One Dreams About Older Women

August 3rd, 2009 · 5 Comments

I Could Never Be Your Woman, 2007, poster I Could Never Be Your Woman, 2007, DVD

I Could Never Be Your Woman (2007)
Written by Amy Heckerling
Directed by Amy Heckerling
Produced by Bauer Martinez Entertainment/ Templar Productions
Running time: 97 minutes

By Joe Valdez

So, What’s This About?

Rosie (Michelle Pfeiffer) — a single working mom in L.A. — is introduced rubbing wrinkle free moisturizer on her hands. Her nipped and tucked ex-husband (Jon Lovitz) drops off their precocious daughter (Saoirse Ronan), who has outgrown her Barbie dolls and now keeps her mom hip to the latest in teen slang. Rosie is writer/producer of a high school sitcom called You Go Girl!, whose 30-ish star (Stacey Dash) is passed off as a teenager. Rosie tussles with censors, a devious young secretary (Sarah Alexander) and a smarmy network executive (Fred Willard) more interested in makeover reality programs than Rosie’s show.

Casting for a fresh face to play a nerd on You Go Girl!, Rosie meets Adam (Paul Rudd), an exuberant, ultra-talented 29 year old actor. She accepts a casual date, first claiming to be 37, and after a kiss, coming clean that she’s 40. Adam scores points with Rosie’s daughter by helping her ace Sonic the Hedgehog on Nintendo. Complications arise when Adam’s expanded role on the show is attributed to his relationship with Rosie, whose secretary schemes to break the couple up. Rosie receives wisdom in the form of Mother Nature (Tracey Ullman), who maintains that Rosie’s generation is just fundamentally out of whack with natural order.

I Could Never Be Your Woman, 2007, Tracey Ullman, Michelle Pfeiffer, Paul Rudd

Who Made It?

Bronx native Amy Heckerling received her master’s degree from the AFI Institute, where her second year thesis Getting It Over With would help land her the job of directing Fast Times at Ridgemont High for Universal in 1981. A box office hit on its way to becoming a youth classic, the success of Fast Times put Heckerling in a select class: women directing feature films in Hollywood. Look Who’s Talking (1989) and a sequel in 1990 would follow before Heckerling wrote and directed a critical and commercial smash — Clueless — which won her Best Screenplay from the National Society of Film Critics in 1995. Heckerling executive produced the Clueless spin-off for the UPN Network from 1996-99.

It was during this time that Heckerling began sketching what became I Could Never Be Your Woman. The project spent six years in development at Paramount, whose CEO Sherry Lansing didn’t think audiences would much care for a woman who becomes involved with a younger man. Once Michelle Pfeiffer attached herself to the project and helped fight to get it made, financing and distribution was secured from French producer Philippe Martinez. Shooting wrapped in the fall of 2005, but the film became so mired in contract disputes that it surfaced February 2008 directly to DVD in the United States, an unusual fate for such a high profile movie.

I Could Never Be Your Woman, 2007, Michelle Pfeiffer

How’d They Do It?

In 1996, Amy Heckerling was executive producing the Clueless spin-off for UPN. The writer/director was also a single mother raising a teenage daughter in L.A. These experiences formed a script that would become I Could Never Be Your Woman. Heckerling recalled, “I started out just writing about a whole bunch of things that were going on and making a kind of Mrs. Robinson relationship movie. Later on, I decided, ‘Let’s lighten this up.’ So then I banged out the relationship between Mother Nature. Is Mother Nature a person who always wins? Do we all have to give in to her or is it okay to keep fighting?”

Heckerling added “I sort of doodled around with the idea and then put it down when I did Loser. Then I was writing something for Fox for a while and then I did another draft of it years later, and that was the one that was shown to Michelle. Then a year or so before we made the movie, she had come on and helped get it done.” To secure financing, Heckerling and Pfeiffer’s reps at Creative Artists Agency called Philippe Martinez, who’d made his bones helping bankroll B-pictures like The Ultimate Weapon (starring Hulk Hogan), Musketeers Forever (Michael Dudikoff and Lee Majors) and producing/directing Wake of Death starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.

I Could Never Be Your Woman, 2007, Saoirse Ronan, Michelle Pfeiffer

Before he became a movie producer, Martinez operated an international sales company that was forced into receivership in L.A. A warrant for Martinez’s arrest was issued in France, stemming from complaints by his business partners. Martinez hid in Agoura Hills where he continued to work in the film industry. He ultimately spent 14 months in a detention center before his extradition to France, where Martinez served six months in prison. But by 2005, he triumphantly returned to Los Angeles with backing from Templar Film Investment Fund and $200 million per year for three years to finance and distribute films under his Bauer Martinez Entertainment banner.

Martinez fondly recalled, “An agent at Creative Artists Agency called me one day and he said, ‘Philippe I know you’re looking for a big movie to produce and here is a wonderful movie that Michelle Pfeiffer wants to do’, so I read the script in two hours which is very rare for me and I loved it and called him and said, ‘Let’s meet the director’. It was one of the funniest things we’d read and incredibly powerful and pertinent. Ironically of course one of the reasons Michelle was such a champion of the project is that there really are so few great roles for older women.” With a budget of $24 million, I Could Never Be Your Woman would commence filming August 2005 … in England.

I Could Never Be Your Woman, 2007, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tracey Ullman

Producer Cerise Hallam Larkin stated, “Our financing was British, so to qualify as a British film we had to spend all this money in England shooting a movie that was set in L.A., which was no mean feat.” The financing scheme explained why so many actors from the United Kingdom (Saoirse Ronan, Tracey Ullman, Sarah Alexander, Mackenzie Crook, Noah Margetts, O.T. Fagbenle) appeared in the cast. Director of photography Brian Tufano was also a Brit – he’d shot Quadrophenia — and Amy Heckerling was thrilled with the opportunity to work with him. Six weeks of shooting at Pinewood Studios outside London would be followed by three weeks of location work in L.A.

Bauer Martinez landed a distribution deal with MGM in January 2006 and I Could Never Be Your Woman was slated to be the first of five pictures (including Harsh Times, Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj and The Flock) from the producer that would hit theaters. But when the studio discovered that Martinez had put them on the line to pay Michelle Pfeiffer 10% of its first-dollar gross and Amy Heckerling another 5% — and that lucrative DVD rights had been awarded to The Weinstein Company — MGM put the film on the shelf. Despite the fact that I Could Never Be Your Woman boasted two mainstream stars and had reportedly drawn positive response from test audiences, no distributor in the United States wanted to touch the movie.

I Could Never Be Your Woman, 2007, Paul Rudd, Michelle Pfeiffer

Amy Heckerling lamented, “If this is independence, I’d rather go back to what they call ‘the devil you know.’ When I did Clueless, there was a big studio system that had marketing and distribution people who knew what they were doing, and had an idea of what TV shows movies should be advertised on, and did research into who liked which movie, and what they watch and what they read, and how much it costs to reach them. These people who knew how to make posters and advertisements. You know, I liked that machine. It worked.” I Could Never Be Your Woman managed $9.5 million in theaters overseas before being abandoned March 2008 direct-to-DVD in the United States.

Many Internet critics who picked up a copy of the much maligned film were favorable to what they found. Jesse Hassenger, “Sometimes you come across an interesting movie with too many flaws to recommend, but Woman is a flawed movie with too much good stuff to completely ignore. It’s smart and warm, and if Heckerling loses her grip a few times, it’s only because she’s squeezing so hard.” Christopher Kulik, DVD Verdict: “Controversy aside, I Could Never Be Your Woman scores highly, both as comedy and satire. Despite its tragic road to being dumped on DVD, it’s one of the best romantic comedies to come out in years.”

I Could Never Be Your Woman, 2007, Paul Rudd, Michelle Pfeiffer

Jim Magovern, The Moviezzz Blog: “Rather than some disaster, it is actually a very good film. It may not be Heckerling’s best film, and I can understand why a studio wouldn’t have picked it up without the DVD rights (as it wouldn’t have been a huge blockbuster) but it deserved more.” Amy Heckerling summed up the experience by admitting, “It’s just bad. It’s just bad, bad, bad. There’s really no nice, interesting spin you can put on it from my point of view.” She added, “It just represents a lot of unhappiness to me. I loved working with Paul Rudd and Michelle Pfeiffer and Saoirse Ronan and all the other people, and I got to make some friends in England, where it was shot. But I’m not happy about what happened. I feel bad. But I feel bad about sadder things than this, too.”

Should I Care?
Dating rituals had evolved in the 17 years since White Palace to fully warrant a contemporary look at the love affair between a woman and younger man, and you couldn’t have asked for two more appealing lovers than Michelle Pfeiffer and Paul Rudd. I Could Never Be Your Woman has little to do with a love affair, or men and women in general; instead, it free falls into a slapdash, superficial and bitter as hell UPN sitcom. This peek into the woes of a professional single mom re-entering the dating scene is so loaded with rage that it might have qualified as a guerilla manifesto against youth culture, if it wasn’t so witless and incompetently made.

I Could Never Be Your Woman, 2007, Paul Rudd, Michelle Pfeiffer

Amy Heckerling has directed a masterpiece (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) and written and directed a well-deserved blockbuster (Clueless). I Could Never Be Your Woman is mad as hell about plastic surgery, ex-husbands dating younger women, youth driven pop culture, soulless network executives, teenage body angst and aging. The movie stops short of beating an effigy of Britney Spears like a piñata. Any adult can identify with Heckerling’s rancor, but the film — which is all surfaces and lacks any real edge — is another story. The settings are generic, humor flat and characters shallow. Not only a mess, it’s a mean-spirited mess.

Paul Rudd acquits himself with some charming physicality, but Michelle Pfeiffer doesn’t fare as well. When allowed to look her age, she’s a dangerous beauty. Trying to vamp it up as a woman 20 years younger, the versatile actress just embarrasses herself. The lighting seems weighed down with cake makeup, while the London-for-L.A. locations add a demented visual layer. There’s a nice cameo by Henry Winkler, but I Could Never Be Your Woman was so misconceived, misguided, mismanaged and misfortunate that there’s not much an appearance by Arthur Fonzarelli can do.

Your thoughts?

I Could Never Be Your Woman, 2007, Michelle Pfeiffer

Where’d You Get All of This?
“His Plan: Conquest of Indie Hollywood” By Sharon Waxman. The New York Times, 5 October 2005

“When Glitches Trump Glitz”
By John Horn. The Los Angeles Times, 4 March 2007

“Would You Dump This Woman?”
By Missy Schwartz. Entertainment Weekly, 1 February 2008

“Amy Heckerling’s DVD Premiere – Part II” By Laurence Lerman. Video Business, 22 February 2008

“Amy Heckerling” By Noel Murray. A.V. Club, 20 March 2008

I Could Never Be Your Woman
– Production Notes

I Could Never Be Your Woman. DVD audio commentary by Amy Hecklering and Cerise Hallam Larkin. The Weinstein Company, 2008

→ 5 CommentsTags: Femme fatale · High school · Midlife crisis · Mother/daughter relationship · Unconventional romance

A Tone Poem to Time Travel

July 30th, 2009 · 5 Comments

Primer, 2004, poster Primer, 2004, DVD

Primer (2004)
Written by Shane Carruth
Directed by Shane Carruth
Running time: 77 minutes

By Joe Valdez

So, What’s This About?

In suburban Dallas, Aaron (Shane Carruth) and Abe (David Sullivan) divide their time between jobs as software engineers with toiling in Aaron’s garage in a bid to develop a get-rich-quick gizmo. While their partners (Casey Gooden, Anand Upadhyaya) seem content to fool around with the equipment, Aaron and Abe focus on creating a product that will dazzle investors and achieve their entrepreneurial dreams. They see promise in a miniaturized semi-conductor, but instead of merely reducing the weight of a weevil, in a matter of hours, their test object presents a coat of fungus that would typically take months to develop naturally.

Aaron hits upon building a box big enough to allow a person to also reverse the arrow of time, but Abe takes him to a U-Haul self-storage facility and from afar, shows him what appears to be another Abe entering the facility. The engineers discover that they’ve already built two coffin-sized boxes with the power to transport users several hours backwards in time, depending on how long the boxes are powered up and how long the traveler remains inside. Using their invention to double up on the stock market and in sports betting, Aaron becomes obsessed with traveling through time in an effort to control the events unfolding in his past.

Primer, 2004, Shane Carruth, David Sullivan

Who Made It?

Shane Carruth studied mathematics and computer science at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas. He spent a few days in the graduate program for math, but dropped out when he realized he’d mostly be doing research for other people. He recalled, “An entrepreneurial spirit took over, and I felt that whatever I did was going to be on my own terms, so I decided to make some money and apply that toward whatever venture I chose. I started writing software in C and C++ for a flight simulator at Hughes Aircraft and then got into Web work. I did back-end database design and then started consulting.”

Carruth had developed a love for narrative, penning a couple of short stories and getting half way through a novel. Realizing he had little taste for inner monologue and much preferred telling a story visually, Carruth spent three years in Dallas teaching himself screenwriting and filmmaking. Following the example of Robert Rodriguez and his book Rebel Without a Crew, Carruth cast, shot, edited and scored a 77-minute feature for the price of $7,000. The resulting film — Primer — was the sensation of the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, winning both the Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic and the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize with its $20,000 purse.

Primer, 2004, Shane Carruth, David Sullivan

How’d He Do It?

“I’ve been asked whether, why I wanted to tell a story about inventors, or garage level inventors and to be honest, I knew what the story was way beyond, or well before, it had anything to do with science or science fiction. I was very interested in trust and how it’s related to what’s at risk, and I knew that I was going to have a story with a group of people — or what winds up being Abe and Aaron — who at the beginning of the film, or the beginning of the story, have this pretty conventional relationship and because of the introduction of this device or this power, changes what’s at risk.” After reading lots of scripts, Carruth “went to town writing”.

“When it came to production, I went to the few production houses here in Dallas. I asked them what they did and how they fit into the general scheme of things. I just asked a lot of questions from end to end about, you know, which cameras do what. Once I found out that cinematography was really photography with a set shutter speed, I got an old 35mm Minolta and bought some tungsten slide film, because I knew that motion-picture film for the most part was tungsten, and I used it to storyboard the entire script. It took a long time, because I didn’t know about photography. I didn’t know anything about depth of field or how to get the look I wanted.”

Primer, 2004, David Sullivan, Shane Carruth, Ashok Upadhyaya

Carruth added, “I had to learn everything through the pre-production process. So I storyboarded and I set up my lighting, which wasn’t elaborate — it was mostly available light. I had read Soderbergh stuff where they talk about him using available light, which is true for the most part. So I thought I could get away with that, but I found there were some situations where I had to buy some florescent bulbs from Wal-Mart and set up a rudimentary bank.” He also opted to shoot in 16mm format instead of going digital. “Because the story gets so fantastical, I didn’t want to be experimental when it came to the medium itself.”

When it came to casting, Carruth met with around 100 local actors, most of which he found either “a little too theatrical” or unprepared. “In the end, only one professional actor ended up in the movie. The rest were either family members, or friends-of-friends. It’s funny because I’ve heard several nice comments specifically about the acting.” After finding David Sullivan to play Abe, Carruth settled on playing Aaron himself. In the summer of 2001, Primer commenced a five-week shooting schedule around Dallas. With nearly 40 locations (and permission to shoot in about 10 of them) Carruth resorted to spaces he had access to, like his brother’s apartment.

Primer, 2004, David Sullivan, Shane Carruth

Recounting his expenses, Carruth stated, “It was a few thousand for the camera rental, a couple of thousand for processing, and then, of course, the cost of film stock. I called around and managed to get a lot of expired stock donated.” $7,000 would not cover the transfer from Super 16 to 35mm; a friend loaned Carruth the cash for that. “I had a few offers from certain bodies to pay for the blow-up, but they demanded that they be credited as executive producers and that their credit show before everyone else’s. I didn’t think that was fair to me and everyone who worked on the film for free before it was a ‘Sundance’ film. Luckily, my friend Scott Douglass saved the day.”

Trying to find a movie in the footage Carruth had shot proved the most daunting task of getting Primer seen. He recalled, “It took two years to edit and compose and loop and Foley and all that.” He admitted, “It really got to me when someone asks what I did for a living and I realized I didn’t have a good answer. And it was just, I don’t know, it was like I’m in my apartment alone all day editing this thing that I’m calling a film but it wasn’t actually a film yet. So yeah, there’s a couple of times where I just gave up and decided I was going to go back and get a job and actually have a good answer to what I did for a living. That was going to be that.”

Primer, 2004, David Sullivan, Shane Carruth

Screened at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, Primer became a sensation in Park City and among critics as well. Dana Stevens, The New York Times: “At a certain point, Mr. Carruth’s fondness for complexity and indirection crosses the line between ambiguity and opacity, but I hasten to add that my bafflement is colored by admiration.” Marjorie Baumgarten, The Austin Chronicle: “It’s hard to always know what Primer is saying or where it’s heading, but it looks fantastic while it unfolds and you won’t be able to forget what you’ve witnessed.” Carina Chocano, The Los Angeles Times: “Frustrating as I ultimately found it, Primer is undeniably geek heaven. For everyone else, it’s a nice antidote to big-budget bogusness.”

won a North American distribution deal from THINKfilm and opened October 2004 in the United States. Never expanding beyond 31 theaters, it scooped up $424,760 domestically. Carruth commented on his debut film’s passionately baffled reception by stating, “My favorite films are the ones that can’t be tidily summed up, yet I walk away with a sense of the core. I wanted to make a film like that. As I was writing, my brother would say, ‘It’s confusing.’ I would ask, ‘Well, what do you think is happening? Just take a guess.’ He always got it right. He’d say, ‘No, no, I get it, I just don’t think anybody else would.’ But that’s exactly what I was going for. I wanted it to be right on that line.”

Primer, 2004, David Sullivan, Shane Carruth

Should I Care?

If you had to prepare a primer on viewing Primer, the consensus Carruth and most of the audience reached was that watching the audacious, mind bending flick twice really seems to help. Really, really helps. Some have compared it to Memento in that respect, but I didn’t find it nearly as accessible. Carruth does a yeoman’s job resisting genre temptations or Hollywood bullshit by grounding the film with geek-speak in all its hyper focused and argumentative glory. Without the sci-fi, this is a striking portrait of garage inventors, right down to their sleeping habits, uniforms and paranoia once they strike on an innovation braced for huge success.

Carruth is a highly intelligent and skilled storyteller who in the middle of his tale, not only walks out on the audience, he shuts off the lights and leaves it up to us to find our way out of the story. The effect is either invigorating or insulting, depending on your personal taste. Regardless of how baffling the finished film, Primer is mandatory viewing for anyone flirting with the DIY aesthetic. The film looks stunningly sharp for the money, has good performances and a decent music track. If a software engineer with less than $10,000 can make a movie this successful in the suburbs of Dallas, anybody can.

Your thoughts?

Primer, 2004

Where’d You Get All of This?
“Shane Carruth”, 7 March 2004

“Mad Math: Bending Time with Primer Director”
By Polly Shulman. The New York Times, 19 October 2004

“Interview with Shane Carruth”
By Rebecca Murray., 22 October 2004

“From Math to Movies” By Steven Wallich & Wayne Slater. IEEE Spectrum, November 2004

Primer: The New Whiz Kid on the Block”
By Amy Taubin. Film Comment. 2004

Primer. DVD audio commentary by Shane Carruth. New Line Home Video, 2005.

→ 5 CommentsTags: Alternate universe · Ambiguous ending · No opening credits · Paranoia · Shot In Texas

She Didn’t Act Sexy, She Just Was Sexy

July 27th, 2009 · 4 Comments

The Notorious Bettie Page, 2006, poster The Notorious Bettie Page, 2006, poster

The Notorious Bettie Page (2006)
Written by Mary Harron & Guinevere Turner
Directed by Mary Harron
Produced by Killer Films/ John Wells Productions/ HBO Films
Running time: 91 minutes

By Joe Valdez

So, What’s This About?

In 1955, a Senate subcommittee investigating juvenile delinquency convenes under the chairmanship of Senator Kefauver (David Strathairn). As infamous S&M pin-up Bettie Page (Gretchen Mol) waits to be called in to testify, her story moves back in time, first to 1936 and her childhood in Nashville, where young Bettie seeks the life of a pious Baptist, despite a burgeoning sexuality that draws the salacious attention of her father. Bettie’s further experiences with men — a possessive Army husband (Norman Reedus) and later, a pack of predatory boys — fail to deter her from moving to New York, where Bettie pursues an acting career.

Bettie is plucked from obscurity by a photographer/cop (Kevin Carroll), who suggests she restyle her hair so her black bangs sweep over her forehead. She soon appears on the cover of magazines with titles like Slick, Male Life and She. This introduces Bettie to Paula and Irving Klaw (Lili Taylor and Chris Bauer), owners of a memorabilia shop who dabble in fetish photos, magazines and 8 mm films, skirting obscenity laws for select clientele. Nature photographer Bunny Yeager (Sarah Paulson) observes a special quality about the free spirited Bettie: when nude, she doesn’t actually seem naked. Her fetish work ultimately upsets an actor boyfriend (Jonathan Woodward) and Bettie’s own moral conscience.

The Notorious Bettie Page, 2006, Gretchen Mol, Norman Reedus

Who Made It?
Canadian Mary Harron began her career in rock journalism. She was a TV, theatre and music critic and in the mid-‘70s helped establish the first punk music magazine in the United States: Punk. Harron began her filmmaking career producing and directing short documentaries for the BBC. More work in documentary TV followed stateside before Harron made a leap into feature films, co-writing and directing the independently financed I Shot Andy Warhol (1996). A controversial film version of the Bret Easton Ellis novel American Psycho (2000) followed. Her TV work has included directing an episode of Oz, The L Word and Big Love among others.

A Bettie Page screenplay Harron wrote with her American Psycho collaborator Guinevere Turner took 14 years to go from script to screen, but piqued the interest of producers Pamela Koffler, Katie Roumel & Christine Vachon of Killer Films, the independent production company based in New York that had backed I Shot Andy Warhol. The company has a deal with John Wells — executive producer of E.R. and The West Wing — who covers all of Killer’s salaries and office costs, as well as underwriting their development. In return, Wells receives executive producer credit on all their films, One Hour Photo, Far From Heaven and Infamous among them.

The Notorious Bettie Page, 2006, Gretchen Mol, Kevin Carroll

How’d They Do It?

In 1993, Mary Harron was working on a tabloid TV show for Fox when a co-worker named Sam Green gave her a fanzine featuring 1950s S&M pin-up queen Bettie Page. Harron recalled, “I had never heard of Bettie Page. I started reading up on her and I was very intrigued by the story. She came from Nashville and I know Nashville pretty well. I was immediately interested in the sex and religion aspects of her story, and the fact that she’d sort of disappeared and then come back.” Fox was interested in getting Page — then in her late 60s — back on camera for a segment, but when the ex-model refused to be photographed, the idea was dropped.

In preparation for her first feature, Harron considered making a 20-minute short on Bettie Page. “After I met Guin, we started talking about working on it together to make it longer, like a 45 or 50-minute film. And at that point I was already writing my first film. And then Warhol came out we started working on it again and it was going to be for HBO. Then we started thinking about it as a feature film, but it was just a very hard thing to get right. Her character’s very elusive. I liked the fact that there was this mystery in her and I felt that in all the years I spent researching it there was always an absence at the center of her.”

The Notorious Bettie Page, 2006, Gretchen Mol

Along with Sam Green — who took on the role of lead researcher and produced transcripts of the Kefauver hearings — Harron & Turner traveled to Nashville, interviewing Bettie Page’s brother Jack in what they felt was a step to meeting the enigmatic ex-model. But Page’s agent scotched any and all cooperation between his client and the writers when he sold Page’s life rights to another project. Harron — who hadn’t met Valerie Solanas before making I Shot Andy Warhol — was undeterred. Interviews with Paula Klaw, Bunny Yeager and Page’s ex-husband Billy Neal enabled her to forge ahead with a script, then titled The Ballad of Bettie Page.

After many drafts over several years, brunettes Liv Tyler and Jennifer Connelly were popular picks to play Bettie Page. It was blonde Gretchen Mol who stood out in auditions. Harron recalled, “What Gretchen did, or didn’t do rather is that she didn’t act sexy, she intuitively understood Bettie who didn’t act sexy either, she just was sexy. Bettie’s joy in life was posing and she just loved showing herself off but it was done in a sweet, innocent way, it was a childlike joy and no one else really got that except Gretchen.” When HBO Films — set to finance the film at $6 million — balked at Mol, Harron prepared to make her Bettie Page movie elsewhere at half the price rather than cast another actress.

The Notorious Bettie Page, 2006, Gretchen Mol

Financing had been extra rough because of Harron’s decision to shoot most of the movie in black & white. “That made it terribly difficult to get funding for, because we actually shot before Good Night and Good Luck — which did very well. But people said, ‘You will never get any foreign sales. You’ll never get this movie financed. People won’t do a movie in black & white anymore because people won’t go see it.’” She added, “It took many years to get it financed and I think people did see that there was a cult of Bettie Page and that there’s a nostalgia for the style, and the sexiness of the era.” After HBO warmed up to Gretchen Mol, a 32-day shooting schedule commenced April 2004 in New York.

The Notorious Bettie Page
was screened at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2005 and South By Southwest the following March before opening April 2006 in the United States. Critics responded favorably. Stephanie Zacharek, Salon:The Notorious Bettie Page is a true feminist movie, but one that avoids cant and facile theories about victimization. Harron and Turner find a great deal of friendly good humor in the Bettie Page story, and Harron has framed that story beautifully.” Richard Schickel, Time Magazine: “This cheeky movie does not impose heavy-duty meaning on Page’s life and times. It just lets us draw our own ambiguous conclusions about what she did. It is the better, the more enticing, for so doing.”

The Notorious Bettie Page, 2006, Lili Taylor, Chris Bauer

When it came to giving the reclusive Bettie Page — then 82 years old — a look at the film, producer Pamela Koffler joined Page, Hugh Hefner and several Playboy bunnies for a screening at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles. The living legend was not comfortable with what she saw. Koffler lamented, “In many ways, the essence of Bettie as portrayed in the film was really dead on. She had a very naïve quality and lacked any kind of guile. The Bettie who watched that film seemed exactly that way — taking everything at face value, unable to see the nuance or irony of even the title of the film, which she spoke out against. ‘I’m not notorious! Why did you call it that?’”

Never expanding beyond 73 screens, The Notorious Bettie Page took in $1.4 million in the United States and $362,000 overseas. Providing context to her film, Mary Harron mused, “So many biopics try to explain everything complex and mysterious about their character in terms of childhood trauma. I didn’t want to be so reductive, to reduce Bettie’s life to pop psychology. I wanted there to be some mystery and ambiguity. Obviously it’s my interpretation of Bettie’s life because there’s a lot of selection involved and I’ve chosen to highlight certain events of her life over others. But I’m not trying to give a final answer about who Bettie was, because I don’t think there is one. I think the truth about Bettie lies within her contradictions.”

The Notorious Bettie Page, 2006, Gretchen Mol, Sarah Paulson

Should I Care?
I didn’t care for this flick much when I first saw it. Recalling Tim Burton’s love poem Ed Wood, the film adores the kitsch queen of its title, transitioning adoringly from black & white to Technicolor (courtesy director of photography Mott Hupfel). It sounds terrific, with platters by Patsy Cline, Peggy Lee and Charles Mingus. Gretchen Mol’s joyful portrayal — requiring much work al natural — practically bends the frame into the shape of a heart. It just wasn’t clear to me who Bettie Page was or why I needed to care. Those questions are not answered, but they didn’t need to be. Instead, Harron and her collaborators provide enough detail and texture for us to make up our own minds.

Sophisticated and insidiously witty, The Notorious Bettie Page is as much a document of a time as it is a woman, and that ultimately tells us everything we really need to know about the woman. Aside from Mol — whose profuse wit rates her among the finest actresses under the age of 40 — the film is supremely well cast, with Jared Harris as foppish British fotog John Willie and Cara Seymour as Bettie’s co-star. Mary Harron is developing into an actor’s director with great taste and an equal edge for creating worlds. The fact that the director, screenwriters, lead actor and six of seven producers were women is reassuring; that their movie is this excellent is invigorating.

Your thoughts?

The Notorious Bettie Page, 2006, Gretchen Mol

Where’d You Get All of This?
“As Costume Dramas Go, Bettie Page’s Is Rather Brief”
By Karen Durbin. The New York Times, 2 April 2006

The Notorious Bettie Page
— Production Notes

A Killer Life. By Christine Vachon. Simon & Schuster, 2006

“Bad Girls Go Everywhere”
By Ada Calhoun., 2006

“Interview with Mary Harron, the Writer/Director of The Notorious Bettie Page By Rebecca Murray.

“Mary Harron Bettie Page Interview” By Gaynor Flynn.

→ 4 CommentsTags: Interrogation · No opening credits