‘American Venus,’ Joe Coleman’s portrait of Jayne Mansfield
The Girl Can’t Help It is Frank Tashlin’s sophomoric and wildly entertaining 1956 salute to the throbbing new art form known as rock and roll music. The movie featured a plethora of early rock and roll stars, including Little Richard, Fats Domino, Eddie Cochran, and Gene Vincent.
The movie was enormously important in the development of the Beatles. John Lennon and Paul McCartney both became avid fans of The Girl Can’t Help It, a mutual love for which provided a bonding moment for the two ambitious young musicians from Liverpool. McCartney played a version of “Twenty Flight Rock,” which Cochran performs in the movie, as a kind of audition for Lennon, who instantly invited him to be in the group he was putting together, then called the Quarrymen.
Many years later, the recording session for the Beatles’ raucous anthem “Birthday” had to be interrupted so that the Fab Four could go off to Paul McCartney’s Cavendish Avenue flat and watch a prime-time airing of the movie.
Another fan of The Girl Can’t Help It is scurrilous midnight movie master John Waters, who found the subversiveness of the movie quite a tonic in the conformist 1950s in which he found himself growing up. (Indeed, Waters freely cops to stealing his own mustache from Little Richard, who has a transcendent performance in the movie.)
Cochran et al. aside, the primary focus of The Girl Can’t Help It is obviously Jayne Mansfield’s attention-getting physique, which the drunken press agent played by Tom Ewell is tasked with turning into a major star. In this documentary clip, Waters swoons for roughly 20 minutes about the movie as well as about Mansfield herself, whom Waters favors over Marilyn Monroe, even to the point of divulging that “Divine was my Jayne Mansfield, only put together with Godzilla!”
Waters acutely observes that the noted scene in which Mansfield’s character Jerri Jordan causes all manner of mayhem merely by walking down an urban boulevard, including causing substantial blocks of ice to rapidly melt and frosty jugs of milk to spout, pretty much provided the “respectable” 1950s audiences with an impossible-to-miss analog for a cum shot.
Not many movie directors have a signal-to-noise ratio as high as Waters, which is my way of saying that he crams a whole lot of wit and insight (and arguably horseshit) into the 20-minute clip.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Jayne Mansfield reads the poetry of Shakespeare, Shelley, Browning and others
John Waters on ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous’!