Prior Bettie Page-related DVDs from Cult Epics more or less dealt with Page's erotic and the fetish productions from Irving and Paula Klaw, the filmmakers who pioneered short-form naughtiness during the 1950s.
The latest boxed set assembles a good sampling of vintage film loops and shorts that were sold by mail to interested parties, and each of the four themed volumes deals with specific genres from the Klaw's low-tech production assembly line. Sold in 8mm and 16mm formats (plus stills, for those lacking a movie projector), most of what survives today isn't in the best of shape, and these 8mm versions certainly lack the quality of 16mm prints. That's the trade-off from an era when naughty images weren't available in various resolutions from online retailers, or easily available at your local video shop. (The specific modes of distribution, the main exploiters, and the social mores of the period under threat are significant aspects that haven't been well-documented in any DVD release, although an old E! documentary is worth seeking out for a good history capsule of the era, and Page's entry and exit from the business.)
The legal attack that had the Klaws destroy chunks of their archives and negatives after indecency charges are another reason why what's left is mostly worn 16mm prints, and grainy, washed-out 8mm versions that were duplicated under chemically unhygienic conditions. That's the reality of the featured shorts, but the risqué qualities of the Klaw films and myriad stills meant they couldn't be replicated at your local shop without raising a few eyebrows, and while technically the transfers are as good as the 8mm versions will likely ever look, they aren't dissimilar from .avi or mpeg files used by contemporary online sources; their function is basic and primal, and they were designed to be as disposable as a comic book or paperback thriller. Besides, if contemporary fans of erotica can live with stuttering images, garbled soundtracks, incompatible or outmoded codecs, and compression artifacts, then 8mm film prints aren't so bad, after all.
Cult Epics have augmented the films with newly recorded lounge jazz that's extremely appropriate to the material, and evocative of an era when one could imaging a naughty husband taking advantage of his family's absence: in the privacy of the wood-paneled leisure room, good 'ol dad could sit in the easy-chair with a drink in hand, and while Terry Gibbs played on the Philco set, he watched Roz wrestle Lulu, using the new Keystone projector normally used for those tiresome family vacation movies.
Vol. 1, The Bettie Page Films, is more of an extension of the label's Bettie Page: Pin-Up Queen DVD, and features four-minute striptease and dancing shorts.
Unique to Vol. 1 are "Return of Teaser Girl," "Bettie's Clown Dance Part 1," "Flirtatious Dance by Bettie," the contradictory "Peppy Graceful Dance," "Bettie Waltzing in Satin Scanties," and "Betty High Heel Dance." Present on the Pin-Up DVD and Vol. 1 are "Tambourine Dance," "Joyful Dance by Bettie Page," "Bettie's Hat Dance," "Dream Dance by Bettie," Bettie's Clown Dance Part 2," and "Bettie's Lingerie Tease Dance Part 2." Unique to the Pin-Up disc, though, are "Tantalizing Bettie Dances Again," "Teaser Girl Part 2," "Dance of Passion," "Bettie's G-String Dance Part 2," Bettie's Fireplace Dance," and "Pin-Up Beauties Fight."
Each of the new Klaw volumes comes with bonus shorts, and the Page disc includes the Cinecolor short "Betty Page Nude" (3:25), and three black & white shorts of Page in black, white, and red lingerie, running just over (3:30). The latter three are standard parades of Page's near-perfect form in skivvies, while the colour short showcases a topless Page, using a red ball and a wagon wheel (!) to show off her flexible mid-region.
As with most of the shorts in this series, the models go through various poses and expressions, and their odd reactions are sometimes to off-screen direction, some nervousness, or a bit of confusion ('smile now? Okay!'). These moments bridge the frozen poses and moments of feigned glee, and they're qualities that make these vintage shorts kind of charming; there's a shared silliness the models can't help but transmit to the camera, knowing their pouting and pelvic thrusts are ridiculous even when isolated to a polite fifties adult loop.
Just as popular as the striptease shorts were the Klaws' wrestling films, archived on Vol. 2 . The disc includes "Pin Down Fight," "Head Scissor Fight by Chris and Jackie," "Negligee Fight," "Ripped Clothing Fight Parts 1 & 2," "Clothing Stripped Off in Fight," "Les Wrestling and Scissor Holds Parts 1& 2," "Peggy Leer Wrestles with Jonnie," "Lively Pin Down Struggle," "Sandra Battles Nora," and the goofy "Gunfight Parts 1 & 2." The titles sum up what's basically leg-heavy tussling vignettes, and the bonus material includes "Tempest Storm Strip Tease Dance" (5:23), "Jackie Miller" (2:50), and "Lili St. Cyr in Dance of Carmen" (5:14). Cyr, one of the industry's higher class performers, gets an elaborate backdrop to change clothes and parade or sprawl on a divan, while the portrait of a matador hangs on the makeshift wall in this 1953 short.
Vol. 3 gathers some of the Klaws' fetish films, but excludes all the titles present in the label's Bettie Page: Bondage Queen. The new DVD offers "Gorgeous Siren in Corset and High Heels," "Kid Gloved Jackie's High Heel Dance," "Appealing Dance by Gwen in High Heels," "Pleasin Dance by Barbara in High Heels," "Ramona's Pretty High Heel Shoes," "Outdoor Girl on High Heels," "Lili Dawn, Queen of High Heels," "Sultry Queen in High Heels," "Hosiery Honies in High Heels," "Trudy's Tantalizing Dance," and two untitled shorts sharing the shoe fetish theme of this disc. The bonus films are basic striptease shorts: "Revealing Strip Tease Art Parts 1 & 2," "Lili Dawn, Siren of Tease," "Barbara Pauline Lounging in Satin," "Roz Strips to Please," "Evonne's Boudoir Parts 1 & 2," "Gwen Shows Art of Undressing," and another untitled short.
The last disc, Vol. 4, focuses on dance films, and assembles "Dancing Strip Queen," "Bonnie Belle's Burlesque Dance," "Donna's Bedroom Dance," "Trudy Wayne's Corset Dance," "Lili Dawn Enticing Dance," "Shake and Quiver Dance by Gwen," "Denise's Black Costume Dance Parts 1 & 2," "Lilly Belle's Dance," "Black Fringe Burlesque," "Lynn's High Kicking Dance," "Honey's Exotic Oriental Dance," "Roz in her Boudoir," and an untitled short. The bonus film is the hysterical "Bumper Lil," which has the performer disrobing and revealing her pair of 'little lils', with some concluding jiggle shots predating Russ Meyer's creative use of extreme angles and directorial zeal.
With the exception of Vol. 4, each volume is available separately or in the boxed set, and they're nicely designed with the inner sleeve sporting reproductions from the original Klaw catalogue (which really deserve a DVD-ROM archive of their own, so viewers can have a good laugh at the ad pap). What's surprising from the sampled material is how pricey these old flicks were - $18 and $14 for 200 foot roll of a complete 16mm or 8mm film, vastly exceeding the cost of a fifties movie ticket for a glossy Marilyn Monroe or Jane Russell flick.
The stereo music tracks offer a mix of lounge and modest big band music which aptly evokes the period, and kind of elevates the grainy images to unique moving portraits of ephemeral beauty, weirdness, and the strange, exacting images that turned the average IBM man into a giddy, priapic lad.
Released the same year as the feature film The Notorious Bettie Page, Cult Epics' set is part of a large Page and Klaw wave that includes label's Bettie Page: Bondage Queen, Bettie Page: Pin-Up Queen, and 100 Girls by Bunny Yeager.
© 2006 Mark R. Hasan