(USA/UK, 84 min.)
Dir. P. David Ebersole, Todd Hughes
Jayne Mansfield endures as one of Hollywood’s legends. The blonde bombshell with the iconic bust and signature walk died at the age of 34 in a tragic car accident in which she may or may not have been decapitated. Her accident might be the greatest drama she left behind, at least for the filmmakers of the peculiar doc Mansfield 66/67. In it, the directing duo of co-husbands P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes chart a campy retrospective of Mansfield’s legacy that pays more attention to her death than anything she achieved in life.
The doc covers Mansfield’s rise as a beautiful starlet who appropriated the dumb blonde role with a self-conscious sense of humor. Ebersole and Hughes position Mansfield as an alternative to Marilyn Monroe and find a similar tragedy to her legacy which keeps her immortal in the dream factory of Hollywood. A chorus of talking heads, many of whom are too young to know Mansfield beyond the images that have circulated for decades, reinterpret her career and media presence through a filter that combines fandom with academic navel-gazing. Happily, the number of voices from Mansfield’s era, like filmmakers John Waters and Kenneth Anger and actors Tippi Hedren and Mamie Van Doren, lend authority to the discussion.
The film has a lot of fun as it veers into conjecture in regards to Mansfield’s increasingly messy personal life. Much of the film dwells on Mansfield’s friendship with Anton LeVay, the late leader of the Church of Satan. Mansfield 66/67 looks at the mutation of the actress’s celebrity status as she veered into the occult, but the doc misses the opportunity to say much about Hollywood’s treatment of female leads while wondering if a star of her caliber turned to Satan either in desperation to save her career or as a shrewd ploy for publicity. The Satanic digression is mostly intriguing for the belief that LeVay put a hex on Mansfield’s troubled boyfriend Sam Brody saying he’d die in a car accident.
Mansfield 66/67 begins with a title card that acknowledges that much of its information draws upon rumors and press clippings. The film appropriates this air of speculation by injecting musical interludes into the show. Featuring drag numbers and eccentric songs about Mansfield, the film plays up the myth of her and other celebrities while acknowledging that little of what we know of the stars is based in truth. This doc doesn’t present much in the way of new or substantial information, but it’s a fun, bubbly adventure that captures Mansfield’s appeal even if the prototypical Fifties B-movie blonde remains elusive.
Mansfield 66/67 screened at Toronto’s Inside Out LGBT Film Festival on May 28.