Jayne Mansfield was a trash goddess for the atomic generation. A stunningly beautiful Playboy model who rode the wave of the blonde bombshell, she was pure curves, cleavage, hair and pout; even more cartoonlike than Monroe, she knew exactly how to manipulate the media and was aware that her career was built on a fantasy. But, far from the dumb blonde she portrayed, Mansfield was a college graduate who spoke five languages. She also got married for the first of four times at 17, had an addiction to sex and drugs, was the first actress to appear nude in a Hollywood film, had affairs with both John F. and Robert Kennedy, and died at 34 in a car accident where she was either decapitated or scalped, depending on the coroner reports you read.
A lot of content to go for then, but this fairly shallow documentary about the final two years of her life is a disappointment. It skims over the success and tragedy of her early years, and concentrates on the tabloid headlines about her association with the ridiculous and fairly dull Anton LaVey, who styled himself as the number one Satanist in America. Looking at clips of LaVey it’s obvious he’d loved to have been seen as a Manson-like cult leader, but in truth he comes across as a second-rate magician, and while his once famous quote — “If you’re going to be a sinner, be the best sinner on the block” — may have resonated with the new thinking of 60s youth disillusioned with politics and Vietnam, he was nothing more than a publicity whore and a sham. While Mansfield certainly knew and was interested in LaVey, and may even have had a relationship with him, directors David Ebersole and Todd Hughes try to build their documentary around nothing more than rumour and speculation.
The truth is Mansfield had a half-dozen car accidents in the 12 months before her tragic end, almost inevitably brought on by addiction and depression, but the film isn’t interested in discovering the story behind the headlines, and just offers a series of archival clips, re-enactments and talking heads offering misguided theories. There are some interesting interviewees — Tippi Hedren, Kenneth Anger, Mamie Van Doren, and in particular John Waters, who obviously has great affection for the age and the subject — and some fascinating footage that shows Mansfield as the fragile and obviously unhappy woman she was, but mostly this is just an hour of nonsense about LaVey and the Satanists curse. As such, this is a missed opportunity.
P. David Ebersole