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New Release Review - MANSFIELD 66/67

MANSFIELD 66/67 review
Documentary examines the final years of Jayne Mansfield's life.







Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: P. David Ebersole, Todd Hughes

MANSFIELD 66/67 poster


When it came to the 'blond bombshells' of the 1950s, Jayne Mansfield fell somewhere in between the superstardom of Marilyn Monroe and the cult appeal of b-movie star Mamie Van Doren. With a voice pitched high enough to scare dogs, platinum blond locks ("my hair is real, except for the colour!") and a figure that made hourglasses look straight (her breasts compared to the nuclear missiles of the cold war by one academic talking head in this doc), she resembled a parody of the idea of the dumb bimbo. As is so often the case with female stars known solely for their sex appeal, Mansfield was in fact highly intelligent, boasting an IQ of 163, fluent in five languages, an accomplished violinist and a philosophy graduate.


MANSFIELD 66/67

Right up to her tragic death in a car crash in 1967 - the urban legend that the starlet was decapitated long since dispelled - Mansfield was treated as a joke, her onscreen persona having pushed the real Jayne into her shadow (and what a shadow; am I right, huh? Huh?). Even in death, Mansfield is still a comedy figure, her dated, parodic idea of a womanly aesthetic having lost its allure to the point that you're now far more likely to find her poster hanging on the wall of gay men than the straights she originally appealed to.

It's easy to laugh at the exaggerated idea of Mansfield, but at the end of the day she wasn't merely a Barbie doll come to life, but a living, breathing woman who appeared to suffer from serious mental health issues in the late period of her short life. With this in mind, P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes' documentary, Mansfield 66/67, comes off as ghoulish and distasteful, often displaying a mean-spirited contempt for its subject.


MANSFIELD 66/67

As the title suggests, Ebersole and Hughes focus on the final two years leading up to that fatal car crash. Five kids, three divorces and an unhealthy lifestyle had taken their toll on her famous figure, and Hollywood had dumped Mansfield on the freeway out of town, the actress becoming just another faded star left to rot in the California hills. Then along came Anton Lavey, head of the Church of Satan, and someone who had cultivated as much of a cartoon image as Mansfield herself. The two found a kinship, with Mansfield reported to regularly take part in Satanic rituals at Lavey's black paint daubed home in San Francisco. Jealous of the attention Lavey was receiving, Mansfield's boyfriend Sam Brody flew into a jealous rage, destroying artefacts Lavey considered sacred. The romantic legend goes that Lavey put a curse on Brody that would lead to the car crash that also claimed Mansfield's life.

The assembled talking heads range from experts in Hollywood Babylon lore, like the always watchable John Waters and cult star Mary Woronov, to academics pulled from various institutions. Most of the interview subjects display a respectful reverence for Mansfield that's absent from the film around them. Using performers from a British drama school, Ebersole and Hughes stage intensely annoying song and dance numbers with students prancing about in blond wigs, cheesy lyrics spelling out details of Mansfield's life. This lends an amateurish, community theatre feel to the film, none more so than when a young actor adopts an offensively parodic Southern redneck accent to speak over footage of Mansfield's undertaker being interviewed. The lack of sensitivity reaches its obnoxious peak when an incident in which one of Mansfield's young children was mauled by a lion on a trip to a zoo is recreated as a short, comedic piece of animation.


MANSFIELD 66/67

Were you to edit out everything Ebersole and Hughes have created from scratch for their film, leaving just the talking heads and archive footage, Mansfield 66/67 would prove an informative look at a key figure of mid twentieth century Americana. In its present form, it's a disrespectful piece of snark art that leaves a bitter taste in the viewer's mouth, one which will likely enrage anyone with a genuine affection for its subject.

Mansfield 66/67 is in UK cinemas May 11th.




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