(Re) Touching Bettie Page

The Notorious Bettie Page movie poster

The Notorious Bettie Page movie poster

The Notorious Bettie Page movie poster

Who is Bettie Page?

Bettie Page is the most photographed model of all-time.

How is this “original supermodel” claim possible? It is a bit dubious, but the statement is derived from the prolific career of Bettie Page as the premiere pin-up model (and Playboy Playmate) in the 1950s. (It also helps to understand a bit about the history of mail-order pin-up photographs, “camera clubs”, and men’s magazines from that time period.) “All-time” claims aside, the impact of Bettie Page is too broad a topic to discuss in a weblog about movie posters, but needless to say: even if you have never heard of her before, you are probably aware of her influence on beauty, fashion, modeling, sex, and pop culture — even if you didn’t realize it.

Her life story is finally coming to the big screen via the dark haired bangs of actress Gretchen Mol in the movie The Notorious Bettie Page. The film covers the modeling career of Bettie Page, including the controversies surrounding her sometimes risque fetish photographs.

The Notorious Bettie Page movie poster

The Notorious Bettie Page movie poster photo comparison

In The Notorious Bettie Page movie poster, we see Gretchen Mol as Bettie Page, leaning against the oversized typography of the film title treatment against a bright yellow-orange background. At least, it used to be an image of Gretchen Mol.

The Notorious Bettie Page teaser poster

Bettie Page

When we compare the poster to the original photograph of the actress, we can see this Bettie Page has had quite a bit of retouching. While the real Bettie Page never needed any retouching (nor does Gretchen Mol as Bettie Page for that matter), a fact of modern life is everyone (and we mean everyone) in advertising is retouched in one way or another. You can bet that unless the image is an editorial/news photograph, it has been altered in some way. (Sadly, sometimes news organizations do alter photographs.) In this case, the poster image of actress Mol as Page has literally been painted into existence. This happens quite often in film poster one-sheets. When working with varying levels of quality of source material — a dark and blurry unit photograph for example — the retoucher, working on the final “finishing” stage of the key art, can be called upon to create all kinds of things in Adobe Photoshop. Looking at the original Gretchen Mol photograph, we can speculate that the photo was a bit out of focus and grainy, requiring extensive “painting” in the final stages… Or maybe the account executive in charge of that campaign was simply over zealous in having the composition retouched. Or perhaps a mixture of both?

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  1. AndrewFebruary 8, 2006 at 11:11 AMReply

    Seems pretty obvious that they were going for a “Vargas girl” look – the art on the poster looks highly stylized and clearly fake – more like an airbrush illustration than anything out of real life.

    Here’s a page with a bunch of Alberto Vargas illustrations (scroll to the bottom):

    Here’s a good specific example in the style of the Bettie Page poster illo:

  2. AnthonyFebruary 8, 2006 at 11:14 AMReply

    I can definitely see where you are coming from with the level of retouching of this photograph on the poster, but I think they made a conscious decision to bring it more into the realm of an illustration to fit with the graphic use of the typography. It just seems like having a photo in the middle of something very unphotographic wouldn’t have worked as well.

    Which is not to say that things coming out of Hollywood marketing departments aren’t too polished sometimes.

  3. adminFebruary 8, 2006 at 11:28 AMReply

    Well, I did say we were biased :)

    And I agree the “creative direction” of the poster could have very well been a “Vargas girl” look — however that doesn’t really fit the subject matter and doesn’t make much sense if you consider the background of Bettie Page. (The movie is, after all, about her modeling career via photography — this is depicted well in the film’s trailer). I think this depection of Gretchen Mol / Bettie Page makes the mistake of falling somewhere in the middle between a photograph and illustration.

  4. adminFebruary 8, 2006 at 11:36 AMReply

    More importantly, do you like this poster / illustration?

  5. BenjamenFebruary 8, 2006 at 5:41 PMReply

    This refers to your comment about the photo illustration of Martha Stewart on the Newsweek cover (“Sadly, sometimes news organizations do alter photographs.”): Does it really sadden you that a news source would use a photo illustration on its cover, even when it’s credited in the table of contents as a photo illustration? Is traditional pen and ink the only type of illustration a reliable news source should be permitted to use, despite the fact that photo illustration is at times much more effective and appropriate? It’s not like they were lying to their readers; after all, putting a person’s headshot on someone else’s body and calling it a photo illustration is not the same thing as putting a person’s headshot on someone else’s body and insisting it’s a genuine documentary photo.

    As for this poster, they should’ve just hired a traditional illustrator if they were going for a Vargas girl look. Photos converted into illustrations through Photoshop blurring and masking techniques just look cheap and amateurish.

  6. Bill CunninghamFebruary 16, 2006 at 11:05 AMReply

    Perhaps it’s not so much the Vargas touch that they were emulating but the “Dave Stevens” touch. Stevens was the artist responsible for re-igniting interest in Page thanks to his using her image in his ROCKETEER comic series as well as several very successful art prints/posters.

    If the filmmakers and marketers are aiming for a 18-35 yr. old audience then this demographic would be the ones that would have seen Betty in The Rocketeer. They would be the ones who embraced the icon in revival magazines like Theakston’s THE BETTY PAGES or Jim Silke’s BETTY comic albums.

    We also have to count in the rockabilly audience who have embraced Betty as one of their icons for all things “retro-cool.” Many people of this culture have only seen airbrushed Bettys on the sides of cars and guitars…

    I don’t want to read too much into this, as no matter how thin you slice it – it’s still Betty.

  7. CWMarch 30, 2007 at 5:13 AMReply

    Not sure if the previous comments have mentioned this because I can’t read them for some reason, but…

    This isn’t a retouched photo but a piece of original artwork using the photo as reference (and a pretty bad piece of art at that). I think they were trying to emulate the look of the Vargas, Petty ‘good girl’ art pinups.

  8. Gene D. NoahJune 26, 2007 at 5:56 PMReply

    It’s “its”, not “it’s”.

  9. Girl Power « « the movie poster weblogJune 2, 2008 at 12:22 PMReply

    […] of Bettie Page, model turned actress Milla Jovovich sports a familiar black hair with bangs hairstyle in her new […]

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