Review for Mansfield 66/67
Oh dear. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to review anything as poor as this. I loved the idea of the documentary, focusing on the eventful last two years of Jayne Mansfield’s life, as well as the promise that it’s ‘a true story based on rumour and hearsay’ promising a lovely, campy ‘Hollywood Babylon’ vibe, further reinforced by the excellent eye-catching cover in pop-art pink. It even promised insightful interviews with John Waters and Kenneth Anger which gave the impression that it might be a decently funded piece of work – but alas, the whole thing was, for me anyway, a let down.
What it turns out to be is an awkward, low-budget film, desperately short on pithy content, held loosely together with interviews (some may be stock) with a strange range of people; most with little or no connection to Mansfield whatsoever (like ‘the pop-star Marilyn’), others impressive heavy-hitters like John Waters. Adding to lack of cohesion is the use of students either dancing or performing dramatic stylised reconstructions to help move the narrative on. Both fall sadly short – possibly through no fault of theirs. They are simply misplaced, miscast and underwhelming.
I’m not sure what went on here but I suspect lack of budget meant the two directors decided to tap into the help of British film course students at a University (I may be wrong) – a fact which is reflected in the almost embarrassingly long credits list at the end, perhaps trying to get an IMBD notice on the whole school’s CV. It also might explain both the dancing and the ‘sketches’ alongside the primitive animation used to show Mansfield’s son being attacked at by a lion at a zoo – no real laughing matter and a style completely anomalous with the rest of the ‘film’.
For such a slight documentary, it’s remarkable just how incoherent, rambling and repetitive it ends up being. That said, it does have minor merits and I guess these should be fairly acknowledged too.
Some of the stock materials are fascinating, particularly those featuring an interview with Anton Le Vey; a showbiz Satanist replete with horned costume who captured the hope and imagination of Mansfield in her final years.
Some of the interview clips are better than others. John Waters exudes his usual acidic glee at the sheer scandal of Mansfield’s final days. A rare appearance by Kenneth Anger, a friend of LaVey who had filmed him himself, is a welcome addition. What insights ‘pop star’ Marilyn is supposed to bring is almost anyone’s guess, as nice as he seems to be.
The few clips of Mansfield are very welcome and a good reminder of what a character she was – both Barbie beautiful, ditzy but smart with it, with plenty of drive for success.
Tracking down one of the policemen who arrived at the scene of Mansfield’s fatal crash was inspired as that really was a first-hand account of her grisly end – apparently prophesied by LaVey.
Some of the facts about Mansfield were new to me and fascinating, though the documentary never really went into them, favouring the prurient. Like the fact that Mansfield was a concert grade violinist, or that she spoke five languages fluently. She was certainly no dumb blonde.
Much emphasis is placed on her relationship with LaVey, just one of a succession of either canny publicity feats or a genuine cry for help. He was no fan of her husband and predicted things would not end well were she to stay with him. The consequent crash, and her decapitation in that dreadful accident are recounted with relish, with little or no sympathy for the children left motherless or the loss of a larger than life personality.
Image quality is variable throughout (understandably as it used sourced archival material) and audio is held consistently throughout, nicely mixed despite the variable material at hand.
The bottom line is, if the directors had elected to simply lose the low-budget, below par dance and sketch sequences, and simply stuck to standard documentary making, it may have been OK. With little or no budget, they elected instead to go the creative route (nice try) but it fails so spectacularly at this that the net result is underwhelming.
It’s a passable enough way to spend 80 minutes I guess, but not worth investing in the DVD. My guess is that one viewing would be more than enough.
On a final note, I should say that I have assessed the film against other properly funded releases. Were this a genuine ‘college’ project, using scarce resources and presented as such, rather than as a ‘feature documentary’, I think I would have viewed it differently and more kindly perhaps.