Actress Jayne Mansfield lived quite the microscopic Hollywood life. Pinned as one of three ‘blonde bombshells’ who shifted the sexual tide in movies during the 50’s and 60’s, her lilting and at times orgasmic sounding voice became the stuff of legend.
As if cultural icon status wasn’t enough, Mansfield made headlines later in life by her induction into the Church of Satan and close ties with its founder,
Aleister Crowley Anton LaVey. * This pivotal span of years between her ascension to the heights of pop culture and mysterious, untimely death via a car accident in 1967 is the finite time explored in Todd Hughes and P. David Ebersole’s new film Mansfield 66/67.
Zipping through this period like a TMZ episode, complete with talking heads interviews from the likes of Kenneth Anger, John Waters and various Phd. teachers (!), I”m not sure very much is meant to be taken seriously here. As in love with the pop confection of Mansfield herself, the film is equally liberated by a sense of tabloid expression whose visual style assembles images and sounds as if it were being compiled for a checkout newsstand.
All of this would have been enough to create a fascinating and fun documentary about the stranger-than-fiction actress, but the film chooses to waste its overall potential with a variety of odd and amateurish interpretive dance numbers. Again, I highly doubt these interjections of weirdness are meant for anything other than tongue-in-cheek exclamation. Filmmaker Anna Biller has quietly carved out an entire career within the staged artificiality of films like Viva (2007) and The Love Witch (2016) that utilize such garish methods. There’s certainly nothing wrong in going there. In Mansfield 66/67, however, these moments just don’t add any interesting commentary to the life of Mansfield and instead feel like dubious padding for a documentary whose running time is already alarmingly short.
Getting beyond these interruptions is a massive detriment to the film’s enjoyment, but the second half salvages itself when it returns to the salacious entanglement of Mansfield and the Church of Satan. Was it all a publicity stunt? Did Mansfield’s sour marriage with her boyfriend and his insolence towards Crowley beget a curse that eventually took their lives? It’s all fodder for the gossip mill, and Mansfield 66/67 is happy to add the grist, even if it gets lost in translation most of the way.
- Corrected. Thanks to Anton Bitel.
Mansfield 66/67 opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, November 10 at The Texas Theatre. Check their website for details and times.