Rotterdam Film Review: ‘Mansfield 66/67’

Camp and cultural analysis are unhappily entwined in this choppy look at the myth of Jayne Mansfield.

John Waters, Barbara Hahn, Cheryl Dunye, Dolly Read, Eileen Jones, A. J. Benza, Eve Oishi, Mamie Van Doren, Mary Woronov, Jane Alexander Stewart, Peaches Christ, Susan Bernard, Kenneth Anger, Yolanda Ross, Alison Martino, Miguel Pendas, Matt Momchilov, Tippi Hedren, Sandy Balzer. Voices of Ann Magnuson, Richmond Arquette.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6027344/reference

“A true story based on rumor and hearsay” is how the filmmakers label “Mansfield 66/67,” a campy disquisition on the expropriation of Jayne Mansfield’s image in the final years of her life. Note the word “expropriation,” since the real Mansfield is singularly absent. Directors Todd Hughes and P. David Ebersole interview minor pop culture denizens with little insight; overreaching academics, who shoe-horn the star into their theories; and even Mamie Van Doren (less than illuminating). Fortunately John Waters and Mary Woronov have meaningful things to say about the Mansfield phenomenon, though everything is undercut by ultra-silly camp interludes featuring men and women in blonde wigs doing interpretive dances and such. There’s value in examining the myth of Mansfield and its impact, but here poor Jayne herself is lost. Queer fests and VOD will generate some attention.

Hughes and Ebersole (executive producers on the vastly superior “Room 237”) state upfront that no family members were asked to participate, as their interest lies in perception over fact. Given that Mansfield herself seemed to live for publicity, no matter what kind, perhaps she wouldn’t have been displeased at the result – after all, they’re talking about her, and maybe that’s enough. Yet the documentary doesn’t entirely dispense with the bare bones of her life, including marriages and affairs, motherhood, alcoholism and drugs, etc., which makes the whole thing an uneasy balance that just gets muddled in invented scandals that weren’t especially interesting when they were propounded, let alone now. At least she’s a far more appealing figure than such latter-day attention-hounds as Paris Hilton or the Kardashians.

The filmmakers are most interested in Mansfield’s final years, when her star had significantly faded (she was still only in her early 30s) and the hunger for publicity became more desperate. Earlier periods aren’t exactly ignored, but they’re present only to set the scene: her position as a budget Marilyn Monroe knock-off (which, let’s face it, denigrates Monroe’s brilliance), her cantilevered measurements, her much-vaunted ability to speak five languages and coax notes out of a fiddle. There was always a freak-show air when such achievements were presented, akin to watching a cymbal-playing monkey: We were meant to be amazed that a busty blonde could even hold a violin, let alone cause it to make a sound. Mansfield was a punchline in ways Monroe never was, and unlike Marilyn, Jayne invited the jokes – about her figure, her tacky taste, her squeal, her Pink Palace.

So when her career was going belly-up, no wonder she linked her name with the latest publicity whore, First Church of Satan founder Anton LeVay. Dressed in a ludicrous devil costume that wouldn’t frighten a party of 4-year-olds, LeVay made a minor splash with his satanic mumbo-jumbo and earned a tiny footnote for himself in the annals of the Swinging Sixties – though as artist Matt Momchilov succinctly states, on the spectrum of evil, LeVay was more Count Chocula than Charles Manson. “Mansfield 66/67” spends far too much time on LeVay and the rumor that the curse he placed on the star’s abusive boyfriend, Sam Brody, resulted in their fatal car crash.

Since camp revels in excess and outrageous juxtapositions, associating such a gruesome end with a demonic curse adds to Mansfield’s pink-toned luster. The directors interview various academics (with “PhD” prominently attached to their names) who make generic comments about the actress’s position straddling the conservative 1950s and the free-wheeling ’60s, but really only Woronov and Waters provide insight, since both are able to cut through the sensationalized nonsense and say something meaningful. Kenneth Anger cagily discusses LeVay, Tippi Hedren is incongruously brought in to talk about LeVay’s lion (which appeared with Hedren in “Roar”), and “cinemashrink” Jane Alexander Stewart proffers asinine psychobabble. Van Doren is the only person in the documentary who actually knew Mansfield, but her brief screen time provides zero perspective. Through it all, Jayne remains nothing but a cipher.

It’s anyone’s guess why Hughes and Ebersole thought it was a good idea to pepper their film with campy dance numbers and a blonde-tressed Greek chorus that neglects the one job Greek choruses are meant to do: provide valuable commentary. A cartoon recreation of Mansfield and family at the zoo, when her son Zoltan was mauled, is beyond bad taste (and not in a good, campy way); happily, the filmmakers lifted the bland but inoffensive car crash scene from TV’s “The Jayne Mansfield Story” rather than staging one themselves.

Rotterdam Film Review: 'Mansfield 66/67'

Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (Regained), Jan. 27, 2017. Running time: 96 MIN.

Production: (Documentary – U.K.-U.S.) An Ebersole Hughes Co. production. (International sales: Stray Dogs, Paris.) Producer: P. David Ebersole, Todd Hughes, Larra Anderson. Co-producer: Alison Martino.

Crew: Directors/writers: Todd Hughes, P. David Ebersole. Camera (color, B&W): Larra Anderson, John Tanzer. Editors: Hughes, Ebersole, Luke Smith, Joel Maudsley.

With: John Waters, Barbara Hahn, Cheryl Dunye, Dolly Read, Eileen Jones, A. J. Benza, Eve Oishi, Mamie Van Doren, Mary Woronov, Jane Alexander Stewart, Peaches Christ, Susan Bernard, Kenneth Anger, Yolanda Ross, Alison Martino, Miguel Pendas, Matt Momchilov, Tippi Hedren, Sandy Balzer. Voices of Ann Magnuson, Richmond Arquette.

More Film

  • Aisling Franciosi

    European Film Promotion Unveils 2019 Shooting Stars

    Aisling Franciosi (“The Nightingale”), Ardalan Esmaili (“The Charmer”) and Elliott Crosset Hove (“Winter Brothers”) are among the 10 actors and actresses who have been named as the European Film Promotion’s Shooting Stars. Previous Shooting Stars include Alicia Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Pilou Asbæk and Baltasar Kormákur. The new crop of up-and-coming talent for the 22nd edition of [...]

  • Jodie Foster'Money Monster' photocall, Palais, 69th

    Film News Roundup: Jodie Foster to Direct, Star in Remake of Icelandic Thriller

    In today’s film news roundup, Jodie Foster is remaking Iceland’s “Woman at War,” the Art Directors Guild honors production designers Anthony Masters and Ben Carre, “47 Meters Down: Uncaged” gets cast and Melissa Takal directs “New Year New You” for Hulu. PROJECT ANNOUNCEMENT More Reviews Concert Review: Maxwell Brings Down the House at Rapturous Hometown [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Jake Gyllenhaal to Star in Remake of Denmark's Oscar Entry 'The Guilty' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Bold Films, and Jake Gyllenhaal and Riva Marker’s Nine Stories banner have acquired the rights to remake the Danish thriller “The Guilty,” with Gyllenhaal attached to star. The pic won the world cinema audience award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and was also named one of the top five foreign language films of 2018 by [...]

  • Toxic Avenger

    'Toxic Avenger' Movie in the Works at Legendary

    Legendary Entertainment is developing “The Toxic Avenger” as a movie after acquiring the feature film rights. Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz of Troma Entertainment will serve as producers. Alex Garcia and Jay Ashenfelter will oversee for Legendary. More Reviews Concert Review: Maxwell Brings Down the House at Rapturous Hometown Show Film Review: 'Jirga' Kaufman and [...]

  • Constance Wu

    'Crazy Rich Asians' Star Constance Wu in Negotiations for Romantic Comedy

    “Crazy Rich Asians” star Constance Wu is in talks to join Sony’s Screen Gems’ untitled romantic comedy, with Elizabeth Banks and Max Handelman producing. “GLOW” actress Kimmy Gatewood is making her feature directorial debut on the project. She will be directing from a Savion Einstein script about a woman who becomes pregnant with two babies [...]

  • Maggie Gyllenhaal AoA

    Maggie Gyllenhaal on Why a Woman Director Doesn't Automatically Make a Story More Feminine

    Having a female director doesn’t automatically make a story more feminine, says “The Kindergarten Teacher” star Maggie Gyllenhaal, but when it comes to her film with director Sara Colangelo, she says the female narrative is fully encapsulated. “Just because something is written or directed by a woman doesn’t necessarily make it a feminine articulation,” she says [...]

  • Kevin Hart Hurricane Harvey

    Academy Looks Warily at Oscar Host Options as Board Meeting Looms

    Kevin Hart’s abrupt departure as Oscars host has left the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences scrambling to find someone to take the gig. As of now, the situation remains fluid as the group’s leadership explores options, including going host-less, individuals familiar with the situation told Variety. The Academy was blindsided by Hart’s announced departure Thursday [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content