Mansfield 66/67

Sometimes watching a film about someone you love is like eating a big bag of sweets. Such a treat, pleasure, a welcome indulgence. It’s divoon, darlings!

Jayne Mansfield is one of those stars who is more famous for her image (and death) than she is for her work. As is stated in the spectacular new documentary about her, Mansfield 66/67, she was a precursor to the reality star in that she put more energy and hours into her carefully cultivated personae and deliberate access to her personal life than she did her movie career. Jayne wanted to be famous, loved being famous and wanted to keep being famous no matter what.

Most of Jayne’s movies weren’t that good and some plain unwatchable (Kiss Them For Me, I’m looking at you) but that doesn’t really matter. It was Jayne the person, not the characters she played in fictions, that make us love her.

Mansfield 66/67 covers most of Jayne’s life but focuses on the decline of her career in its final stages and, in particular, the two last years of her life (hence the title). In that time Jayne met and befriended Anton Levay, the founder of The Church of Satan. Levay was himself a publicity slut and so they were made for each other. What follows is an investigation into the question of whether the curse Levay supposedly put on Jayne’s boyfriend – that he would be in a fatal car crash within a year – was the cause of his death. Because he did die in a car crash within a year. And Jayne died along with him.

Husband and husband producing team P David Ebersole and Todd Hughes have crafted a delightful and playful documentary about Jayne’s last years. As they said in their interview with Loverboy last week, they are more concerned with the audience’s ideas of Jayne, the curse and her death, than they are in searching for any kind of ‘truth’. Some may baulk at this but, what is truth? I know that’s the sociologist/cultural theorist in me coming out but really, what is it? All histories are made up of different people’s versions of events. Even in an autobiography it is the author’s version of events and those bits that they are choosing to present to us. There is no ‘truth’, in fact. So why not focus on speculation, rumour, and ideas of something that happened? Besides, quite frankly it’s more fun that way.

During one interview Jayne said that she loved being a sex symbol because it was campy. Now, most definitions of camp have it that the subject who is labeled camp is unaware of their campiness. But that’s not always true. Camp is much more deeply complex and multifaceted that it’s glittery surface would have us believe. And it gives people power to say that someone is camp – sometimes an othering, nasty side of that power. Jayne owned it and labelled herself and took back that power. And she said this before camp was even an overt thing, especially outside of gay circles. Despite her sad decline and vulnerability during this time, she knew what she was and tried to play to those strengths. No wonder we love her.

Ebersole and Hughes came over to the UK to film the dance sequences and get the score and animations done. And they did so utilizing the resources and talents of faculty and students at Leeds Beckett University, escalating media students into show biz careers in the process. I love this. There was such a loving and warm sense of the opportunities they gave and value put on the work of these students when the producers speak about it. Hearteyes.

This whole film is scrumptious, I’ve got a great big crush on it.

One last word from me about Jayne’s death. It was originally reported that she was decapitated because reporters on the scene saw a wig that had been sitting on the dashboard. That has since been refuted as apocryphal. Yet, there is still this idea that – as John Waters states in the doc – she was ‘scalped’. BUT, that isn’t the case either. I saw a doc about her death ages ago where the mortician declared that her head was ‘intact’. And, as he said, ‘I know this because I embalmed her’. I’ve been trying to find that clip for eons when this conversation about her dead head comes up online. Lo and behold there it is in Mansfield 66/67. OK, sometimes I’m interested in truth (winkyface, tongue lolling face).

This project began as a fiction script called The Devil Made Her Do It by Ebersole and Hughes but, as they told us, although it was popular no one was willing to put the money forward to make it. So, they did the documentary instead. But – hallelujah! – on the back of the wonder that is Mansfield 66/67 there is now interest and a director attached, so a biopic of Jayne and Levay may well reach our screens in the coming years and we here at Loverboy couldn’t be happier at that news. It’s simply divoon, (squeal)!