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DID YOU READ

Betty Crocker — with a Whip: Harron’s “Notorious Bettie Page”

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By Michael Scasserra

IFC News

“The Notorious Bettie Page” documents the heyday of the 1950s most enduring pin-up queen, the all-American gal who began posing for camera clubs, turned bondage into suburban parlor play, became the subject of Congressional hearings — and was rediscovered three decades later as a pop icon of the highest order.

By today’s standards, Page’s kitten-with-a-whip act looks downright wholesome. (Madonna went farther than this twenty years ago — and on television.) So why has Page’s shapely form translated so effectively from the nudie magazines and dirty book stores of the 1950s to the coffee mugs and refrigerator magnets of today? The answer seems to lie in her particular approach to smut: she always looked happy, seemed in control of her own image, never went full-frontal — and there was never a man in the frame. “What was dangerous and disturbing in the 1950s is not so dangerous now,” says director Mary Harron (“I Shot Any Warhol,” “American Psycho”), whose “Notorious” new film puts Page in the context of that era when sex was still discussed in hushed tones — yet was bursting at the seams of America’s pop culture.

“If Bettie hadn’t been a pin-up queen, she would have been a typist or a secretary, but what she really wanted was to be an actress. Posing was a way to pay the rent, but it took over her life,” says Harron, who contrasts Page to another 1950s icon, Marilyn Monroe. “Marilyn had that driving ambition to be a movie star and would sleep with someone to get a job, but it seems that it just wasn’t that important to Bettie. She didn’t see herself in a big arena — but she did have an overwhelming desire to be looked at. She accepted the values of her time in that she felt her proper destiny was to settle down with a husband and kids, but she was also a free spirit, a natural Bohemian. Her photos reflect that spirit. She’s like Betty Crocker coming out with a tray of cookies, yet she’s posing with a whip.”

Working from a screenplay co-written with Guinevere Turner (“Go Fish”), Harron’s biopic utilizes the cinematic vocabulary of the 1950s to document the rise and fall of this Christian country girl from Tennessee who became the object of fetishes she didn’t even fully understand. The movie’s uncanny recreation of the era moves from gritty, authentic looking black-and-white (some shot on hand-cranked 16mm) to gorgeous, saturated color (primarily when the action moves from New York City to Miami). This is one of those few occasions when the combination of color and black-and-white makes perfect sense — and rarely have we seen a better match of new and stock footage, courtesy of cinematographer Mott Hupfel, who here fulfills the promise of his ingenious cinematography for 2001’s “The American Astronaut.” The fashion, hair, and make-up of the period are impeccably recreated, and the entire affair unfolds to a nifty soundtrack that includes vintage recordings by Patsy Cline, Peggy Lee, and Artie Shaw.

But all that texture wouldn’t amount to much without Mol’s sexy, subtle performance. “We looked at every actress with black hair, anyone who looked even remotely like Bettie — and the problem was that they all came in sexy,” Harron recalls. “Gretchen was not on anyone’s list. She came in wearing a simple shirt and pants, and she had the sweetness. Gretchen wasn’t acting sexy — she was acting the joy in posing. I think she knew instinctively what Bettie was about — the delight in showing herself off, the delight in posing, the delight in her own body.”

On screen, Mol looks like Page, poses like Page, is every inch a sex goddess — yet the power of her performance is in her searching eyes, her smiles, her quiet expressions and offhanded shrugs. There’s never a moment of fuss or self-consciousness in her portrayal — even when she asks a photographer to remove a ball-gag from her mouth, just so she can remind him that she believes in Jesus. Naked or not, Mol is a dream in black-and-white — and even more sumptuous in color. Near the conclusion of the film, at the moment Bettie takes communion and become a born-again Christian, Harron moves in for a rapturous, Technicolor close-up — and Mol holds the shot like a vintage Hollywood star. “The Notorious Bettie Page” is Mol’s movie — from topless to bottomless. (Look out, Reese — there’s a new girl in town.)

In the years after she stopped posing, Page went into seclusion, became a missionary, had a mental meltdown — but Harron wraps things up way before then. “Anyone’s life story can be a comedy or a tragedy, depending on where you end it,” she says. “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 in her contradictions.”

“The Notorious Bettie Page” opens on April 14 in limited release (official site).

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.