Early on in the brilliant documentary by P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes a title card appears saying ‘A true story based on rumor and hearsay.’ Although it may sound strange it is this element that makes Mansfield 66/67 such a fascinating and fantastic film because the truth is often stranger than fiction especially when it’s made up.
Many documentaries claim to tell the truth however they are always subjective, not only telling the tale spun by those interviewed and involved but also drawing from facts and figures which could be used in any number of ways all down to the direction the director wishes their story to go in.
Mansfield 66/67 is unsurprisingly about the life of actress and icon Jayne Mansfield between the years 1966 and 1967 when she died in a horrific car crash which became as legendary as she did seeing as the reports from the time claimed she was decapitated.
Living her life constantly in the public eye all we know of her is from newspapers, magazines and interviews meaning there is a whole host of information but who know if any of it really true?
Thrust on screen to offer the public a familiar looking alternative to Marilyn Monroe, Mansfield was made famous by her appearance in a quartet of films including the wonderful The Girl Can’t Help It. With an accentuated hour glass figure, ridiculous voice and over the top sexuality Mansfield was a caricature of the blonde bombshell and the audience loved her.
Behind the scenes Mansfield was very different from what the public thought. Highly intelligent with an IQ of 163 she spoke five languages and was extremely devoted to her family. She was also acutely aware of her on screen persona laughing at herself and the captivating yet camp role she created and was constantly forced to play.
Her downfall was her addiction to fame and while always courting publicity she went to more and more extreme measures to remain relevant willing to do almost anything to grab the headlines. Hooking up with a string of men who were no good for her and succumbing to drink and drugs her most interesting and incongruous dalliance into the dark side was her relationship with Anton LaVey, the charismatic leader of the Church of Satan.
Visiting him at his home and temple to Satan for what looked like a very staged photo shoot the tabloids exploded with rumours that she was now having an affair with him, part of his cult and that she had even been ordained as a priestess.
The strange friendship between the pair seemed to continue and in many ways they were perfectly matched, both being eager for fame and embracing the ideals of a sex-positive lifestyle. As LaVey said “If you’re going to be a sinner, be the best sinner on the block” and something from this honest yet anarchic statement struck a chord with Mannsfield it seems.
Things became more mysterious and malignant when Mannsfield then-boyfriend lawyer Sam Brody upset LaVey resulting in him being cursed. A series of strange spooky events followed that made many at the time believe in the powers of the self-appointed head of the Church of Satan and a grand conspiracy involving Mannsfield which sadly resulted in her early death.
Taking in tons of elements including 1950’s Hollywood, the Satanic Panic, the changes in the world and especially the way women and their sexuality was displayed on screen Ebersole and Hughes film flies along always entertaining and educating in equal measure along the way.
Put together with archive film footage, news stories, pictures and interviews from the time Mansfield 66/67 examines the last two years of her life in depth in 7 parts. The assembled interviews are impressive including the legendary John Waters, Hollywood Babylon’s Kenneth Anger, Cheryl Dunne, UK pop star Marilyn, drag queen Peaches Christ and actresses Tippi Hedren and Mamie Van Doren, alongside notable academics in film, feminism and American culture and history.
Added to this are dance pieces, cartoon reconstructions, songs and other drag routines specially created for the film which sometimes don’t work as well as you would have hopped but do offer an artistic and interesting aside to the usual documentary formatting.
A great story of stardom, Satanism and the sad fate of those obsessed with fame Mansfield 66/67 is a must see for anyone interested in not only LaVey and Mannsfield but in the period of cinema and society. Sadly it seems our media obsessed culture hasn’t changed a bit since then.
Mansfield 66/67 is released in cinemas on the 11th of May 2018 and on DVD/ VOD on the 25th of June.