Exclusive interview with director Mark Mori, his documentary traces legendary sex symbol and fashion icon
By Robin Rowe
“Bettie Page was a force of nature,” says Bettie Page Reveals All director Mark Mori. “Her free spirit was second nature to her and she had no judgments or hang-ups about what was sexually acceptable. She’s the world’s greatest still photographic model. She didn’t take herself too seriously and just wanted to have fun in front of a camera. She loved being nude. She knew she had a great body and worked hard to take care of it.”
Before Miley Cyrus swung nude on a wrecking ball, before the Paris Hilton sex tape, before Madonna’s nude photo book Sex, before Marilyn Monroe posed for the cover of the first issue of Playboy, there was Bettie Page. Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Mark Mori carefully researched the sex symbol, renowned for her racy pin-up photos in the 1950s. Bettie Page projected girl-next-door innocence that gave her photos a special charm, whether wearing a bikini of her own design, in an outrageous fetish outfit holding a whip, or wearing nothing at all.
Bettie Page’s unabashed sexual expression and provocative poses set the stage for the sexual revolution and ushered in the modern era in fashion and fashion photography. Ranked by Forbes in 2012 as one of the top ten posthumous celebrity earners, Bettie Page continues to rise in popularity.
Mori says he started thinking about creating a Bettie Page film in 1996. His entertainment attorney, Bob Darwell, showed him a pre-publication copy of Bettie Page, Life of a Pin-Up Legend. “Bob arranged for me to meet Bettie in person,” says Mori. “I’m obsessive about research. I consider it a key to good storytelling. In addition to many informal chats over lunches with Bettie and really getting to know her, I did about five hours of recorded interviews with her. I also found every person I could who knew her, located 20,000 photos of her and did a lot of research about 1950s America and reading about feminism.”
“The biggest challenge was to construct a good story with her interview bites as the narration and make it flow as a compelling narrative,” says Mori. “My approach was to try to answer the question, why Bettie Page? What is it about her and her photos that are so compelling, that she’s developed an international following and more popular today than ever, almost sixty years after the photos were taken? And what happened to her after she disappeared?”
Mori shot interviews with people who were key in Bettie’s story, many of whom have passed on now. The film uses no reenactments, but does use comic book panels, some of which we altered to help tell the story visually.
“We uncovered never before seen photos of Bettie, and rarely seen photos, and photographers previously unheard from,” says Mori. “We found old film footage of Bettie, which hadn’t been seen since the 50s, and restored old film loops of Bettie’s ‘wiggle’ movies done by Irving Klaw. We shot on 16mm cameras in the beginning and later switched to a Canon HD camera.”
Mori directed about 50 hours of raw footage, and researched countless hours of archival footage and photos. There was so much that he had a full time archival librarian on staff just to keep track of everything. The film shot in NYC, L.A. and Miami.”
Mori worked with three editors on the film over a period of about two years. “My creative partner, writer and first editor was Doug Miller, whom I’ve known and worked with for more than twenty years,” says Mori. “Julie Chabot was editor #2, constructing the story. Finally, another old friend, Jay Miracle, was the finishing editor and edited the one-hour TV version for foreign distribution.” Miracle won an Emmy for editing Hearts of Darkness about the making of Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.
“Indie docs are always tough, this one especially so, because of the difficulty in financing and working completely on my own without any studio backing,” says Mori. “The construction of this doc from a creative, technical and legal standpoint is beyond things I’ve done previously. You need an especially passionate commitment to see something like this through.”
Mori financed the film through investment and crowd-sourcing from Bettie fans. The executive producer is his brother, Thorpe Mori, Co-producers are Clifford Schultz and Mark Roesler (president of CMG, handles Bettie’s licensing). Transmedia Producers are Jeff Gomez and Mark Pensavalle (who through their company Starlight Runner Entertainment have worked on Avatar, Pirates of the Caribbean and other major films.)
Mori’s next project is a documentary about the wild and crazy side of James Brown, as told with the help of his business manager Mr. Bobbitt and his money man Fred Daviss.
FILMMAKER IN PERSON: Director Mark Mori will appear in person at the Nuart Theatre screening in Los Angeles on Friday, November 29th, and Saturday, November 30th, at the 7:30pm and 9:50pm shows each night.
Bettie Page Reveals All opens Friday, November 29th, 2013, at Landmark Nuart Theatre, showing through Thursday, December 5th, 2013 for an exclusive one-week engagement. Nuart Theatre is at 11272 Santa Monica Boulevard, just west of the 405 Freeway, in West Los Angeles.
Running time 101 minutes. Rated R. Digital.
This story is also at CNN.