Pros: Bettie Page; vintage burlesque and striptease

Cons: Terrible audio and image quality; “exotic dances” are deadly dull

From the period of about 1950 until 1957, there was perhaps no more famous pin-up model than dark-haired starlet Bettie Page (billed in most of her work as “Betty Page”). Born in 1923, Page made a name for herself when she appeared in numerous men’s magazines of the early ‘50s, perhaps achieving her greatest fame in January 1955, when she was selected as Playboy’s “Playmate of the Month.” Page also became rather notorious for being one of the first female models who posed for photo shoots and performed in films involving themes of S&M and bondage – this during a time when anything of the sort was quite scandalous. It’s worth noting that while she did pose nude on numerous occasions, Page never was involved in anything featuring overt sexual content, and I think that’s part of the reason why she has so much appeal even decades after her last photo set – she wasn’t exactly wholesome by most standards, but the worst you could say about Page’s films and photos were that they were playfully naughty, never completely tasteless. Though she all but disappeared from the public eye in the late ‘50s, Page has since become one of the most recognizable models of all time, inspiring fashion and style for decades.

Running just over 90 minutes, the 2005 DVD release Bettie Page: Pin Up Queen assembles a rather extensive collection of film work that Page did in the early 1950s. Starting off with all of Bettie’s scenes from the burlesque film features StriporamaVarietease, and Teaserama, the program continues with about an hour of short “exotic dance” films. The DVD would obviously be of interest to members of the Page fanclub, but I would probably advise most viewers to know what they’re getting into with this disc. If you’re looking for somewhat risque but generally tame cheesecake films from the golden era of striptease and burlesque, this should be right up your alley. For viewers more accustomed to the type of “glamour” photography that you’d find today, where there’s much more a focus on bare skin (or worse) than on a playful atmosphere, Pin Up Queen is likely to be a massive disappointment.

The scenes lifted from the three burlesque features are probably the most interesting footage here, but also potentially frustrating since only the select sequences from these movies actually featuring Page are seen on the Pin Up Queen DVD – this DVD does not present these films in their entirety. StriporamaVarietease, and Teaserama (the first of which was directed by Jerald Intrator; the other two were produced and directed by Irving Klaw, the “King of the Pin Up”) are in color and contain some of the more iconic scenes with Page (for instance, the “most daring bath scene ever filmed” that’s featured in Striporama – the wink is classic!). Filled with colorful sets, technical ineptitude (oh look! A boom mic!), and amusingly cheesy striptease music, these sequences mainly consist of Page doing simply and somewhat awkward dance routines while wearing various skimpy outfits (many of which were designed and made by Page herself).

An early scene in Striporama is the only scene ever in which Page is given any dialogue, while Teaserama includes a scene where Page (playing a French maid) assists well-known burlesque performer Tempest Storm put on a garter belt and stockings. Interestingly, in a written commentary included as an extra on the disc, Page declares that she believes that her looks were at their high point during Teaserama, where she mainly served as the card girl introducing the various performers, and I’d have to agree. She positively glows anytime she’s onscreen during these scenes, looking really lively and vibrant. Video quality on these selections ranges from decent to pretty rough; the image is loaded with glitches and a handful of unintended jump cuts and the audio is pretty scratchy as well. Unfortunately, this is as good as this DVD gets…

The second half of Pin Up Queen features really rough and scratchy, black and white “exotic dance” short films featuring Page (all of which were “directed” by Irving Klaw). These brief programs mainly consist of Page wearing various skimpy outfits, dancing around in a somewhat suggestive manner in what almost looks like a barren hotel room. Made without sound and quite obviously cranked out cheaply and quickly, there seems to have been no forethought into what would go on into any of these shorts: Page simply was given a costume and maybe a prop or two and left on her own to improv the “performance.” Thus, most of these dance shorts are very similar and by and large, uninteresting.

Not helping matters at all is the horrific collection of stock music that the DVD producers have included as an after-the-fact soundtrack: once I started hearing bootleg, incredibly cheesy arrangements of “He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands,” the “Love Theme From the Godfather” or even (gulp!) Don McLean’s “American Pie,” I really began to lose interest in what was onscreen. It’s nice that these rare films were assembled on this DVD at all, but honestly, the image quality on them is atrocious, loaded with grit and grime which makes them questionable as something much of anyone would want to watch – especially considering how relatively dull most of them are. As an example of the dubious technical quality, during a short entitled “Joyful Dance,” the reflective pasties that Page is wearing have created artifacts in the print here that make it seem like she has sparklers exploding out from beneath her bra. By comparison, though similarly rough in quality, many of the bump’n’grind shorts included as extras on any number of DVDs from Something Weird Video look much better – and are typically more shall we say interesting – than the ones included on Pin Up Queen. The last few of the “exotic dance” films (including the self-explanatory “Betty’s Fireplace Dance” and “Pin-Up Beauties Fight”) indisputably look the best, with the latter even including some light spanking during the obligatory cat fight. To me, the entire selection of these dance shorts comes across as pure filler: a few of them would have easily gotten the point across to the viewer. Having to sit through an hour of them becomes excruciatingly tedious.

Probably one of the most intriguing aspects of the Pin Up Queen DVD is that it provides a clear chance to see how the concepts of erotica have changed over the decades. Without a doubt, the material included on this DVD (which at the time was borderline illegal) plays like the kiddie corral compared to half the things that would play today on network television. There’s about no sexual content to be found on this DVD, just women wearing bras and panties, shaking their hips to the tunes of sleazy instrumental music. Certainly, there’s a crowd out there that would appreciate and enjoy what this DVD has to offer: namely, a nostalgic trip to a time and place where societal standards were much different than they are today. That said, even to the most patient viewer who has a sincere interest in either vintage burlesque and striptease or in Bettie Page herself, the disc has maybe a half hour to 45 minutes of worthwhile footage; after that, it’s all overkill. At best, I’d give it only a slight recommendation.

Released by Cult Epics, this disc is full-frame, with picture and audio quality ranging from mediocre to atrocious. Obviously, it’s cool to see this material on DVD at all, but I suspect the horrible quality might turn some people off (if the content itself doesn’t first). Extras on the disc are pretty slim, but somewhat worthwhile. The most interesting is a text commentary from Page herself which provides some insight into the production of these films and her opinion of them. Additionally, we have a Page biography and a list of the Top 100 Glamour Girls of the 20th Century.

1/10 : Mild spanking during one short film.

1/10 : There’s a bare minimum of dialogue here in the first place; only thing potentially objectionable are some mild sexual descriptors used during a few film trailers.

2/10 : Women parading around in their skivvies. Sad to say, these films haven’t held up very well as being all that stimulating. The shoddy image quality doesn’t help either.

5/10 : There’s certainly a crowd out there who would eat up these vintage burlesque routines, to say nothing of the legion of fans Page herself has at this point.

Most unflattering description of a striptease performer ever: “Tempest Storm…that lovely hurricane of delight…so big, we had to use widescreen to film Teaserama…” …um…what?

Bettie In Action:

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