MANSFIELD 66/67 ****
Directed by P. David Ebersole, Todd Hughes. Starring Ann Magnuson, Richmond Arquette, Kenneth Anger. Documentary. 85 mins, Cert 15.
Released in the UK by Peccadillo Pictures on 11th May
Jayne Mansfield is a legendary figure in Hollywood and an individual that transcends the very films she starred in. While her name still resonates, the pictures she made do not do the same, a curious quirk that emphasises just what a star she was and what an icon she became.
In her day she was an actress, a model, a sex symbol, a celebrity, a mother and, most shockingly, possibly, maybe, a high priestess in the church of Satan. She lead a very eventful life which was cut short in a car crash at the age of 33, and piecing together the details of that life to separate the fact from the fiction is no easy feat. Subsequently, directors P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes haven’t even tried in their entertaining documentary on the star MANSFIELD 66/67.
Instead, we’re told from the outset that this ‘A true story based on hearsay and rumour’ for as one interviewee says here, most of what we know is based on newspaper coverage.
The film is split into seven parts tracking Mansfield’s rise to fame and her relationship with her lawyer Len Brody before getting into her connections to Anton Lavey, founder of the aforementioned satanic church.
Quite what Mansfield’s involvement with the church or Lavey himself (and the role both played in her final years and subsequent death) is open to much of the aforementioned hearsay and rumours. As a result, we don’t end the film with much further knowledge on the actual facts but when the waters have been muddied as much as they have already to tell a ‘true story’ would have been an impossible task.
The academics and filmmakers interviewed (the most famous of which are John Waters and Tippi Hedren) manage to put across the fantastical stories with a raised eyebrow and sense of doubt where applicable. Are stories made to fit the fantastical narrative or is the truth greater than the fiction? Has her life simply become a case of ‘print the legend?’. The reality could well be somewhere in between, but we will never know. To embrace the legend without resorting to conspiracy theories and the like is a smart and fresh approach that makes MANSFIELD 66/67 stand out on its own.
Elements do at times revert to standard documentary format, as Ebersole and Hughes examine undisputed elements of her life, career and character. She was by no means a dumb blonde (she spoke five languages), seemed to dabble in many religions, was the first Hollywood actress to appear topless in film, protested Vietnam and, as this films very existence demonstrates, had a huge effect on popular culture.
A lot was packed into her life and a lot is packed into the documentary as a result. Aside from standard talking heads and archive footage, we get some smart musical interludes (including an original song and dance number over the opening credits) with some 2D cartoons animating some of the more fantastical (and potentially fictional) story elements.
It all adds up to a remarkable, interesting, thought-provoking and by its own admission, highly contentious examination of Hollywood’s smartest dumb blonde. You’ll learn everything about Jayne Mansfield as a result while equally end up knowing next to nothing.
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