P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes (director)
11 May 2018 (released)
12 May 2018
While Jayne Mansfield’s name will trigger some recognition it’s unlikely her films will. Her films and other aspects of Mansfield’s tragically short career and life are due a proper retrospective. Mansfield 66/67 does offer up a few titbits; she spoke 5 languages and had a degree. But as the title says this documentary concerns itself with the specific period before her death and in particular her relationship with Anton LaVey.
This part of her life is awash with rumours and half-truths, with even the circumstances of her death being confused. It was generally reported that she was decapitated. She wasn’t, she was ‘only’ scalped. That’s a gruesomely pedantic point but an example of the myth that started to surround the star before and after her death.
Brass tacks are that her career was in the doldrums having been stratospheric in the 50s when she could do no wrong. Coquettish roles, brilliant timing and natural good looks helped Mansfield to superstardom, wealth and the construction of the legendary ‘Pink Palace’ on Sunset Boulevard. That she wasn’t taken too seriously as an actress doesn’t seemed have worried her overtly: in a male orientated world she held her own albeit still subject to the sexist crassness of that particular time. Equally as punishing was the studio system: Fox dropped her when she wanted to marry and have children.
Enter Anton LaVey, head of the Church of Satan, an undoubtedly charismatic self-publicist who charmed Mansfield - herself no shirker when there the opportunities arose – into a mutually self-interested relationship. Whether they were ever lovers will probably never be known but there was clearly something more than a superficial attraction between them. Various ideas are spun by the contributors. It’s when we get into the realms of black magic and curses that belief starts to disengage or engage depending on the viewer.
Sam Brody, Mansfield’s attorney and then boyfriend fell out with LaVey badly after he damaged some satanic talisman, and he cursed Brody to die in a car accident. What followed is entirely up to the viewer to decide if its coincidence or something mystical. But Brody had a series of car accidents (reconstructed here using toy cars) and Mansfield was warned to stay away from him as she could be caught up in it.
Directors P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes have gone full on late 60’s with garish colours and trippy bare foot performance dancing. The little animations for some of the sequences may look to send it up though that has to be seen in the context of LaVey posing in a ridiculous horned devil costume! The contributors are a cool mixture of academics, artists and contemporaries with lively opinions and some interesting insights.
There’s a dark playfulness here, as much of the film is based on rumours so the directors have given themselves some leeway with some episodes. However, daft as it may all appear Mansfield did have her demons and the true darkness of her later life of drink, poor films and decisions aren't glossed over.