May 7, 2018 Mansfield 66/67 (Documentary Review)
As far as stardom goes, there has not really been a bad time to be blonde and pretty. It can be a boost for talent that is already there or, more cynically, a cover for a lack of it. It helped turn the likes many into cinematic icons. The hows and whys behind this have been examined, discussed and debated a lot over the years. However, the documentary film Mansfield 66/67 is more interested in one particular starlet who rose alongside some of the biggest names, but did not quite reach their heights: Jayne Mansfield.
After the highs of her 1956 debut in The Girl Can’t Help It and the infamy of her nude role in 1963’s Promises! Promises!, Mansfield 66/67 focuses on the last two years of her life, examining what was going on with Mansfield, professionally and personally, before she died in a car accident on June 29, 1967. The film was made for the 50th anniversary of her death, but will make it to UK cinemas on May 11, 2018, before being released on DVD and Blu-ray on June 25th. It was directed by P. David Ebersole (Death in Venice, CA 1994, Hit So Hard 2011) and Todd Hughes (Feminette 1982, The New Women 2001), and produced via their company- aptly named The Ebersole Hughes Company.
Mansfield 66/67 certainly stands out from a typical documentary, given it starts off with a 4-person chorus of 3 women and a man in blonde wigs singing a summary of Mansfield’s life. The film describes itself as ‘a true story based on rumour and hearsay.’ In fact, guest John Waters (Pink Flamingos 1972, Polyester 1981) describes how one could write a bunch of lies about Mansfield and get away with it, while the documentary does try to sort through the gossip via interviews with an array of talking heads. Alongside Waters, guests include rival Mamie Van Doren (Teacher’s Pet 1958, The Navy vs the Night Monsters 1966), Tippi Hedren (The Birds 1963, Jayne Mansfield’s Car 2012), Kenneth Anger (Lucifer Rising 1972, Hollywood Babylon 2000), and more.
The film is somehow irreverent in a reverent way, in that it examines and appreciates Mansfield’s look, career, accomplishments and flaws, but also plays with them too. Her career followed in Monroe’s footsteps, and the film shows how close she trod in them. She was famous for her curves, so they show how famous they got through advertisements for ‘Jayne Mansfield-shaped hot water bottles’ or comparing her blonde bombshell appeal to literal bombshells. Though it also shows that she had more going for her than being ‘the Cleavage Queen,’ like playing the violin and knowing five languages.
The film also has a bunch of skits and dances backing it up, which are interesting, if curious. If the 4-person chorus mentioned above does not grab audiences, the dance based on Mansfield falling in drugs with lawyer Sam Brody might do the trick. Or maybe the intro with its own take on Little Richard’s “The Girl Can’t Help It” will do the trick. It certainly has a lot of spice to shake the formula up a touch, making Mansfield 66/67 as much entertainment as it is documentary. Then, that is probably made clear the first time they cut one piece of footage as if it were reacting to another. That or comparing Mansfield’s breasts to ‘the missiles of the military industrial complex.’
Of course, one person’s spice is another person’s fluff! The film says it will go through Mansfield’s last year ‘in seven parts,’ yet it could have gone through this in less or perhaps organised itself better. The film touches upon interesting topics – like how Mansfield’s image clashed with the rise of feminist movements in the 1960’s – but there is more focus on whether Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan and a friend of Mansfield’s, placed a curse on her or not for some slight she did. Even debating whether he saved her son’s life by making an incantation – which gets an animated cartoon based on it.
Mansfield 66/67 does not really get back to base after that. Maybe Mansfield and Brody did try to lift a curse off of them, and perhaps having someone dance to stock footage of atrocities in Vietnam to symbolize Mansfield’s USO show was a good idea. Perhaps LaVey knew she died before anyone else due to a spooky coincidence, but the rumour and hearsay become the meat of this documentary from then on. Telling apart fact from fiction can be difficult when the people who know for sure cannot even say otherwise, but there is certainly more lurid speculation here than educated guesses.
So, those expecting an in-depth look at ‘the world’s smartest dumb blonde’ are unlikely to find it here, least not beyond a few parts. What they should expect is a feature-length equivalent of a tabloid article. There may be notable people from professors to celebrities interviewed, but, in the end, it is all about the chit-chat. Therefore, Mansfield 66/67 works as entertainment, but it is not exactly a solid documentary. For that, CrypticRock gives this film 3 out of 5 stars.