Iconic Hollywood starlet Jayne Mansfield packed a fair amount of living in her relatively short life. A brief A-lister while under contract at 20th Century Fox, she was a sex symbol in the Monroe mould, married three times and was known for the ‘wardrobe malfunction’ decades before the puritanical outrage that greeted Janet Jackson’s slip at the Super Bowl. She met her untimely end in a horrendous car pile-up, but not before flirting with the then burgeoning interest in Satanism within the Hollywood hipster set. She was seemingly the queen of the column inch during most of her career, but P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes’ film attempts to shed some light on the salacious gossip and reach beyond the blond bombshell persona.
The directing duo have huddled together an impressive array of interviewees for their film. Alongside the various Hollywood historians and social/psychological commentators, we have the likes of Hollywood Babylon author Kenneth Anger, John Waters and even Tippi Hedren offering up their interpretations of her life. It all makes for a breezy, illuminating glimpse into the world of celebrity. Interestingly for a film focusing on a very American subject matter, Mansfield 66/67 was made in conjunction with the Northern Film School in Leeds. It’s there where the nicely shot, silky Technicolour-inspired interludes were presumably created. These moments mostly take the form of interpretive dance, and although some segments work a little more successfully than others, this unconventional approach to the medium is entirely welcome and adds another dimension to the film.
The second half of the documentary veers into the later, more destructive part of Mansfield’s life, particular her friendship with Anton LaVey, the founder of the Church of Satan. It’s still unclear just how involved Mansfield was with the church, or indeed, if the hex LaVey placed upon her then-boyfriend at the time was really instrumental in causing the actresses’ own demise. This is where Mansfield 66/67 takes on a fascinating and unsettling stranger than fiction vibe (although LaVey comes across as almost caricature in a modern context). Unfortunately, it’s also where the film slides purely into conjecture, as those attempting to piece together the last years of Mansfield’s life (a time referenced in the film’s title) can only really theorise what happened, thus causing the filmmakers to fall a little into the trap they was carefully avoiding. Nevertheless, Mansfield 66/67 remains an entertaining, sometimes through-provoking trawl through Hollywood folklore, which should appeal to anyone with even a passing interest in that world.
Mansfield 66/67 hits UK cinemas 11th May.