Mansfield 66/67

Review by Abbey Bender @Abbey_Bender

Directed by

P David Ebersole Todd Hughes

Starring

Ann Magnuson Kenneth Anger Richmond Arquette

Anticipation.

Jayne Mansfield and Satanism… what a combo!

Enjoyment.

Some corny flourishes but the archival footage is fabulous.

In Retrospect.

A fun if slight look at one of the greatest stars of the 1950s.

Jayne Mansfield’s affair with the head of the Church of Satan is the focus of this compelling Hollywood doc.

This film opens with a disclaimer: ‘A true story based on rumour and hearsay.’ Briskly paced and cheeky, it offers a fun primer on a curious bit of Hollywood history, though some audiences may be left wanting. It details the final years of actress Jayne Mansfield and her relationship with Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan.

While the famous photographs of LaVey and Mansfield together are indeed delightful, the film seeks to draw too much meaning from what was essentially a chance photo op, as it suggests the two eccentric figures may have had an a air and LaVey may have had some premonition of Mansfield’s untimely death in a car crash. Whether any of these theories carry weight is up for debate, but the mere idea of Mansfield’s alluringly over-the-top femininity combined with Satanism certainly makes for a juicy documentary pitch.

LaVey and Mansfield are both individually fascinating, and one senses that each could merit his or her own more in-depth documentary. The strength of this film lies in its shrewd use of archival footage. There’s a treasure trove of clips containing Mansfield, from films, TV appearances and interviews, and some of the clips are spliced in to act as a kind of pithy commentary.

The selection of talking heads is also strong, with the always great John Waters giving Mansfield the highest compliment, calling her a “dumb genius blonde.” Early on, contextualising Mansfield’s career as a blonde bombshell too often dismissed as a poor man’s Marilyn Monroe, there’s a supercut of the many breathy, near-orgasmic sounds she emitted throughout her filmography. They must be heard to be believed – truly, Mansfield carried herself like a cartoon character made flesh, and for this she should be celebrated, not shrugged off.

Mansfield embodied cheesecake ’50s sexuality, and the documentary explores some of the difficulties inherent in the actress’ uneasy transition into the ’60s with its more liberated take on gender. To its credit, the film doesn’t set up Mansfield as a punch line, or give her the melodramatic E! True Hollywood Story treatment. The scholars and directors interviewed here speak of a certain savviness with regard to her image, and various clips show Mansfield speaking multiple languages, playing violin and espousing liberal philosophies in her charming voice.

Mansfield is ripe for a feminist reclamation, with her potent combination of talent and beauty, and her kitsch status which merits a closer look. Mansfield 66/67 is a bit too winking at times, with its use of exaggerated reenactments and blonde-wigged dancers in interstitial sequences. Such moments don’t add much – when you have such great source material as Mansfield, you don’t exactly need more pop elements on top.

Those going into the film without much knowledge of the actress are likely to want to delve into her filmography. It feels slight at times, but does at least present the actress as a compelling woman both completely of her time and cannily ahead of it. As the bombshell herself says in an old interview, “If you can’t laugh at yourself, you may as well give up.” Excellent advice, made all the more potent by who’s giving it.

Published 11 May 2018

Tags: Jayne Mansfield

Anticipation.

Jayne Mansfield and Satanism… what a combo!

Enjoyment.

Some corny flourishes but the archival footage is fabulous.

In Retrospect.

A fun if slight look at one of the greatest stars of the 1950s.

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