Letter to Jayne


Cobbled from years’ worth of disparate footage and breathtakingly disdainful of such niceties as logic and tact, The Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield (1968) is less faux-documentary travelogue than full-bore eruption of grind-house surrealism. That the film’s lead had already been dead a year before “her” narration was added to the hiccuping montage is but one morbid wrinkle in the movie’s sex- and celebrity-obsessed fabric. Indeed, by the time Jayne’s bubbling voice-over declares, “Gosh, it’s just absolutely great being a star!” a double bill with Mulholland Drive seems a good place for this blithe monstrosity.

Not that the movie displays much Lynchian artistry. Interweaving various snippets of Mansfield (mainly cheesecake press walkabouts and salacious film clips) with a dizzying patchwork of tourist reels, strip routines, transvestite balls, and Italian gladiator flicks, Wild, Wild World pulsates with brazen shoddiness, the erratic narration and kamikaze editing barely able to contain themselves. Jayne ponders the meaning of damn near everything—but especially herself—as images spring from, inspire, or completely elide her musings with a flippant discontinuity that Buñuel and Dalí would’ve applauded. The tacitly acknowledged juxtaposition of Jayne-as-protagonist and Jayne-as-fetish-object suggests a drive-in Rose Hobart even as the specter of death minces over the proceedings in the form of Mansfield’s ever present Chihuahua—who, like his mistress, literally lost his head in an apocalyptic car wreck.

Ultimately, the question of ownership is as central to Wild, Wild World as Jayne’s redoubtable bustline, though unraveling the snarl of exploitation, idolatry, and misappropriation on display would necessitate one very ponderous doctoral thesis. On the other hand, the feature itself remains a grotesquely enjoyable turn through the pulp-cinema wringer; hell, it could prove to be Mansfield’s most enduring work.