This new documentary contains many disclosures, some of them strange, some terribly sad. But one of the weirdest is surely the description of a “camera club” in New York in the late 1940s and early ’50s, shutterbugs who trooped out of town every weekend with a handful of models to take pin-up photos.
Such pictures, their subjects partially clad or entirely barenekkid, might be sold by mail-order or to magazines like Wink, or Cavalier—you know, for discriminating readers. Some of these (apparently docile) smut-purveyors are still around; interviewed for this documentary, they suggest the kinds of bottom-feeding oddballs from Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, but without the florid personalities. The mind boggles at the thought of these blandly organized jaunts and the mixture of tawdriness and innocence they conjure up. (Such scenes were suitably odd in the 2005 biopic The Notorious Bettie Page, which starred Gretchen Mol.)
At the center of many of those photographs was Bettie Page (1923-2008), an unusually expressive model who was reasonably well-known on the underground nudie circuit in the ’50s and then became a major cult icon by the ’80s.