Bettie Page Double Feature (Kino Lorber, NR)

Back in the pre-internet days, those in seek of pornography had to make due with French postcards and blue movies and such (and live shows if you lived in a big city or caught one of the traveling acts). Providing content to the market was potentially lucrative and, after failing at several other business ventures, Irving Klaw became the king of what was known in post-World War II American as fetish art, commissioning or creating and distributing dirty movies and photos and even some illustrated chapter serials.

Klaw was giving the people what they wanted, but the Kefauver Hearings of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency in 1957 brought the good times to an end, and Klaw closed down the business and destroyed most of his negatives. A few survived, however, including the three movies (two of which feature Bettie Page, hence the title) in this collection: Varietease (1954), Teaserama (1955), and Buxom Beautease (1956). They’re tame to the point of quaintness by today’s standards but are interesting as historical documents and may make you wonder how anyone could ever have argued with a straight face that viewing such materials would lead to juvenile delinquency. On the other hand, since burlesque is enjoyed a revival of late, maybe there’s also an audience who wants to view these films for their original purpose. On the third hand, the results of internet searches for these films include some images censored by a blur, so I guess obscenity is still in the eye of the beholder.

Bettie Page is the headliner in Varietease (67 min.), with Lili St. Cyr and drag queen Vickie Lynn among the other performers. It’s shot in color and has more of a frame story than the later films, thanks to Bobby Shields announcing the acts as if it were a variety show in a theater. It’s basically a filmed record of a variety of striptease acts, comedians, and singers who perform to the camera as if to an audience (the “backstage” material is performed on so minimal yet spacious a set that no one could be fooled into thinking it was real).

My guess is that Klaw figured out that no one really cared about anything but the acts, so in the later films the live host was replaced by title cards carried out by one of the performers and placed on an easel (similar to how ring girls announce each round in boxing, which makes me wonder who did it first). The Something Weird Video version (71 min.), a 1993 release from a Seattle film distributor that’s still in business, has a bit of additional material.

Tempest Storm gets top billing in Teaserama (58 min), which also stars Bettie Page, Trudy Wayne, Vickie Lynn and several other dancers, plus standup comedy by Joe E. Ross and Dave Starr. Like Varietease, it’s basically a compilation of acts, like a blue variety show, all shot in color on minimal sets. As in the other films, bathing suit areas remain discretely covered for the most part, but if you’ve ever wanted to see Bettie Page help Tempest Storm get dressed, this is your film. The Something Weird Video Edition (67 min) includes several additional acts, including more comedy sketches and a Spanish-themed dance number.

Buxom Beautease (79 min.) includes a similar mix of dance acts (including a fan dancer) and comedy routines, with performers including Blaze Starr, Tempest Storm, Lili St. Cyr, Dorian Dennis, Joe Young, and Gene Doyle. It’s shot in a mix of color and black and white, but otherwise the setup is similar to Teaserama: the acts are performed to the camera as if it were the audience. | Sarah Boslaugh

Bettie Page Double Feature is distributed on a two-disc Blu-ray set by Kino Lorber. The prints of Teaserama and Varietease are 4K restorations from the original 16mm camera negatives, while the print of Buxom Beautease is a 4K restoration from the 35mm camera negative and 16mm materials. Extras include audio commentaries by Jo Weldon (Teaserama), David K. Friedman and Mike Vraney (Teaserama —  Something Weird Video Edition and Varietease – Something Weird Edition) and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (Varietease), and several theatrical trailers.

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