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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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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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