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Bettie's bondage years make for bouncy biopic.

Bettie Page: Dark Angel The Cleveland Institute of Art's Bell Auditorium, 11141 East Boulevard 7:15 and 9:15 p.m. Friday, August 13, and Saturday, August 14; $5; call 216-421-7450
Experimental filmmaker Nico B. is infatuated with Bettie Page. And who can blame him? With her bangalicious hairdo, sexy garters-and-stockings get-up, and girl-next-door smile, the '50s pinup queen oozed personality. She was simultaneously ooh-la-la hot and playfully innocent.

But Nico isn't into that side of Page. He's into a later phase of her career, when she was making bondage films. Right before her movie-making mentor Irving Klaw was busted for obscenity. And right before Page found religion and dropped out of sight. Nico loves the tale so much, he put aside his usual sub-Lynchian, artsy-fartsy movie tricks and made Bettie Page: Dark Angel, a relatively straightforward biopic about Page's final years.

"I didn't want to make a film about where she was born," he sniffs. "I was interested in how sexuality in those days had an effect on society. I was interested in what happened to her and why."

It all started with another Page -- Paige Richards, the star of such late-night Skinemax classics as Lord of the G-Strings: The Femaleship of the String and K-Sex: Lesbians From a Different Planet. She approached Nico at a party, and the two discovered they shared a passion for bondage pics. "I wasn't interested [in working with Richards] until she told me about her lifestyle," he says.

Dark Angel re-creates many of Klaw's short films starring Page as kidnap victim, catfight participant, and ass-spanking dominatrix. Nico -- shrewdly disguising his own low budget as homage to Klaw's cheap style -- doesn't waste time on exposition or money on fancy sets. He essentially dresses Richards in lingerie and lets her bounce around, Bettie-style. After all, that's why Page still has such a devoted following. "She doesn't look like the models of these days," Nico offers. "She has a voluptuous, '50s sexiness.

"You look at her, and she's having fun. Even if she's tied up."

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