Va-Va-Voom! Say the name Jayne Mansfield, and most people think of two things. For those of us whose heads aren’t in the gutter, those things are rock ’n’ roll. It’s true that the bombshell was made a star by a studio happy to exploit her top-heavy proportions and pigeonhole her as a poor man’s Marilyn. Her most successful outing in that capacity is probably the Tony Randall comedy Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, but music fans know her for The Girl Can’t Help It, which offered a prime showcase for exploding stars Little Richard, Gene Vincent, and Fats Domino. Fox has bundled those two with a little-known Western for The Jayne Mansfield Collection, while Dark Sky Films offers her later low-rent heist flick Dog Eat Dog — making this a good time for Mansfield fans, whatever the source of their affection.
Another new release also stars a figure whose reputation is based half on music, half on less reputable pastimes. Fans who have always felt queasy about the attention paid to the songwriter’s mental-health issues will not be entirely mollified by The Devil and Daniel Johnston (Sony), a doc that naturally recounts some extreme anecdotes from Johnston’s up-and-down career. But the film is dignified, and never feels exploitative; the filmmakers share the concern their interviewees have for Johnston’s well-being. They don’t quite sell the specialness of his music to viewers who aren’t already believers, though. (For that, listen to Kathy McCarty’s Dead Dog’s Eyeball CD).
If voyeurism is a concern when discussing Johnston, it’s the medium itself for a concert film by the Beastie Boys. Lionsgate’s Awesome: I ... Shot That! (the missing word starts with f and ends with ckin’) is what you get when you hand out 50 cameras to rabid fans and let them make your movie for you. Admittedly, watching the shows through their eyes must have been hell in the editing room, but it’s kind of a no-brainer as a concert-flick technique.
Nobody seems to talk about race and appropriation anymore when they discuss the Beasties, but the topic’s alive and well in Afro-Punk, a shortish, raw documentary about that very rare creature, the Black punk rocker. New performance footage of Bad Brains is a big selling point here, as is a companion CD anthologizing such little-known artists as D-Fe and the Carps. Better-established in the punk pantheon, the Minutemen also get a more polished DVD package in We Jam Econo (Plexifilm), a double disc pairing the doc (whose scrappy town-to-town theatrical run was in true DIY spirit) with a whopping 62 performances drawn from three live sets.
As always, the Minutemen’s story is dominated by the tragic early death of D. Boon; a more recent (and given his age and illness, less unexpected) musical loss was that of Mali’s genius bluesman Ali Farka Touré. The guitarist’s beautiful swan song, Savane (Nonesuch), has received plenty of publicity, but fans may relish a chance to see him perform as well in the more obscure documentary A Visit to Ali Farka Touré, which was released in France but is being imported now by Kultur Home Video.
Finally, in honor of last month’s 25th anniversary of MTV, let’s take a moment to remember the days in which the network played music videos. A three-disc box from Hip-O, Pure ’80s, makes the trip down memory lane an easy one, splitting its 45 videos into the three essential nutrient groups: the synthopop of “Tainted Love” and “Take On Me”; proto-emo anthems like “Sister Christian” and “Love is a Battlefield”; and the hair-band bombast whipped up by Cinderella and Great White. Look, nobody said this wasn’t going to make you feel guilty.
Readers whose memories don’t stretch back quite that far can embrace their favorite music critics, Beavis & Butthead, this month with Paramount’s third volume of TV material, as well as their re-release of Beavis & Butthead Do America. On the other hand, those who remember a pre-MTV era (and younger ones who wish they do) should take note of Tom Snyder’s Electric Kool-Aid Talk Show (Shout Factory), which collects 1979-1981 episodes of NBC’s Tomorrow Show featuring hippie luminaries from Timothy Leary to the Grateful Dead. Tom Wolfe pops up here as well, though he’s less inclined to discuss his LSD journalism than a little book he wrote called The Right Stuff.
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