Once Jayne Mansfield’s star began its descent in the 1960s, the hour-glass-figured actress continued to court publicity wherever she could get it, fast becoming a reality TV star of sorts. She would appear in the tabloids seemingly inebriated (pills and booze they claimed), and photographed during many-a wardrobe malfunction, that 40″ chest fighting for freedom and yet she continued to work – completing Single Room Furnished – before her life was tragically cut short aged 34.
A year earlier from the crash that would claim her life, Mansfield appeared in a photoshoot with Anton LaVey, the High Priest of The Church of Satan and it was soon suggested that she was now a Witch worshipping at the altar of LaVey – the Satanist who would allegedly place a curse on Sam Brody, Mansfield’s lover at the time. Brody would die in the car alongside Jayne on that fateful night on June 29 1967, and it is these last two years of the actress’ life that husband and husband filmmaking producers P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes (Dear Mom, Love Cher, Room 237) concentrate on in their documentary.
Mansfield 66/67 is far from ordinary in its form, combining dance numbers, songs and monologues (performed by students of Leeds Beckett University) intercut among the archive footage, animated reenactments, photographs, and newspaper clippings. There is a cast of adoring fans and conspiracy theorists including John Waters, Mamie Van Doren, Kenneth Anger, Cheryl Dunye, Yolanda Ross and Drag artist Peaches Christ, as well as insights from Los Angeles historian Alison Martino and academics Dr. Eileen Jones, Dr. Eve Oishi, and Dr. Barbara Hahn. It is a fascinating and visual delight with a tone befitting its subject.
While the film makes no bones about focussing on salacious scandal and rumour – there is even a disclaimer at the very beginning – it doesn’t hurt it. Just as sex sells so does conjecture and falsehood (we are living in the Fake News era after all), and amongst the knowing kitsch and farce a solid argument is made positioning Mansfield as a feminist icon. One that suggests she transcended her sexual identity, and exploited the sexist culture which, some will continue to argue, exploited her. Amidst the Pink Palace, heart-shaped pools, jewels, Chihuahuas and overtly sexualised image, this woman who spoke five languages, played the violin and piano to concert level, and mothered five children was, in fact, liberated.
This highly intelligent documentary is a wonderfully weird watch, and while dressed largely in pink and fluff, it has a lot to say about the expectations placed upon women, and doesn’t take itself too seriously, much like the woman at the heart of its soul. Mansfield 66/67 is an entertaining exploration about the lasting impact of myth and the rise of the women’s movement. A film full of fun, love and admiration for the underestimated blonde bombshell, who was original, self-reliant, determined, and fabulous, and appeared to live her short life to its fullest.
Did the Devil make her do it? Damned if I know.