Factory Girl vs. The Notorious Betty Page – Film Review

Factory Girl (dir. George Hickenlooper) and The Notorious Betty Page (dir. Mary Harron) were released on DVD in Australia in August, 2007.

Factory Girl and The Notorious Betty Page both depict women whose circumstances lead them to positions of difference.
TNBP is a slightly superior film in that Betty is likeable and believable in the curious choices she makes. From innocent schoolteacher in Nashville, to S&M pin-up girl in the conservative 50s, Gretchen Mol creates a fun-loving character who maintains her innocence, which was the essense of Page’s appeal. She was a religious non-drinker and enjoyed ‘making people happy’ even if that meant sly smiles to unknown gentlemen in magazine centrefolds.
Factory Girl shows the same New York, ten years on. Edie Sedgwick is seduced by difference at Andy Warhol’s ‘Factory’. She too, is from a small town and a conservative (and abusive) background. One part of this film that fails is in its attempt to victimise Edie. To suggest she was strongly coerced into the films, the drugs, the lifestyle. One reason it fails is because Guy Pearce plays Andy Warhol as empathetic – a lonely Momma’s boy, a true genius with aesthetic obsessions – an empty shell, perhaps, but an unintentional one. Guy Pearce steals the film from Evie’s sob story. The structure, where Edie is in a drug rehabilitation centre, waxing lyrical about her past and her regrets – is too ordinary and overwrought. There is so much potential in a film about Warhol’s ‘Factory’ and Warhol’s ‘It’ girl. There are no scenes where the audience gets to see why she is so wonderful. She is not artistically shot, she is not permitted to shine. It’s a shame because it’s not like Sienna Miller does a bad job, but she definitely creates a character who has made her own choices, which grates with the ‘victim’ story that overrides the structure. And there is hardly a glimpse of Warhol’s art. The film is shot so straight, and with cheesy voice-overs. Where are the pop art montages? Where is the creativity? Where are the ideas, George Hickenlooper?
TNBP is a much more creative film, Mary Harron makes use of black and white footage for Betty’s hometown and New York adventures, but colour for her forays to Miami. Miami is the only place where Betty feels free, uninhibited, and thus, the filmic technique enhances her vibrancy. The ending risks being preachy but as a biopic it does relay true events, and the closing lines rescue it.
In Factory Girl it is also worth mentioning Hayden Christiansen as Bob Dylan – while he is pretty, he utilises his looks to portray Dylan with sensitivity and vulnerability. He is carrying on from fine work in other small films such as Shattered Glass, and (like Leonardo DiCaprio) is thus avoiding pigeonholing himself as a stud.
Factory Girl had so much potential – a great cast fall prey to an uninspiring script and run-of-the-mill directing. TNBP is more enjoyable overall, and leaves the viewer pondering morality, decency, and the way culture and society shape attitudes and behaviours. Gretchen Mol is perfectly cast.
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