Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Movie Gem: Barbarella (1968)

Barbarella_post I recently re-watched the cult classic Barbarella last night.  I first watched it as a 14 year old when it came on basic cable.  God only knows what they censored, but it doesn’t matter since I had no idea what was going on.  I was merely dazzled by the special effects—come to think of it, my only memory of it is the scene during opening credits: the one where Jane Fonda is floating and she is undressing her space outfit. Now, armed with a mature perspective, I am overwhelmed with such campy goodness.  As I walked my dog this morning, I couldn’t help but hum the theme song for Bar-bar-bar-barella. I felt silly, but in an incredibly gay mood (gay as in joyful).

Jane Fonda & Vadim
The film stars one of my favorite actresses and celebrity personality, Jane Fonda.  I have reason to believe that this movie catapulted her into “Star” status.  At this point of her life, she was married to notorious film director Roger Vadim (who also directs Barbarella).  Fonda is made up into a Vadimbot—a hot blonde sex kitten, much like his other wives and lovers such as Bridgette Bardot (the first), Catherine Deneuve and Annette Strøyberg—to name a few.  Fonda admitted in her memoir that she had a breast augmentation and transformed herself to please Vadim ( after their divorce, she chopped off her hair and dyed it  dark brown, morphing into academy award winning actress and Hanoi Jane, but more on that later).

Barbarella_post-2 Anyways, since I possess some autobiographical information on Miss. Fonda, I couldn’t help but connect this film with her life. As I watched this movie,  I couldn’t help but think that Barbarella is what Vadim calls her in bed. (It’s not, Barbarella is originally a French comic book by Jean-Claude Forest.)

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I found it hard to believe this all-American daughter of Henry Fonda could be such an erotically charge creature.  She has to be transformed by her European life.  Yet I do believe Jane Fonda fit this role perfectly since it requires a certain amount of innocence and naiveté.  Take Barbarella’s first sexual encounter in the movie—where in order to return a favor to a bounty who saved her life, she allows him to overtake her in a primal sexual manner. They don’t show the deed (this movie could so pass for soft-core porn, right down to the story line!) but they show Barbarella’s reaction after they have sex.  She looks like a virgin who just got her cherry popped. I believe that this scene speaks volumes about Fonda’s relationship to Vadim.  She entered the relationship as an inexperienced, yet hungry traveler; she left it as a powerful vivacious sexual creature (Fonda later married powerful men, politician Tom Hayden and billionaire Ted Turner.)  I am not saying Fonda used sex as a means of seducing these men like the femme fatals for film noir, no, I mean that she gave them a little something extra in the bedroom department. I also cant help but see Fonda’s incessant need to please the men in her life. Throughout the movie, she lets the male characters dominate her without much objection. Very uncharacteristic of most American woman, Fonda treats sexuality in a very aloof, “it’s just sex” European manner.

Camp and the Pornographic Story Line
There is a number of camp motifs that I got a huge kick out of.

  • Excessive Nudity
  • ”Durand Durand” (From where the 1980’s band derived their name)
  • Phallic weapons
  • Sapphic Space Craft
  • Lava Lamp/ Ecstasy-induced Outer Space
  • Creepy Children/Midgets
  • Bondage
  • Large, sex-slave like robots
  • Carnivorous DollsBarbarella_post-3
  • The “Caveman” fantasy
  • Pygar, the 6’5” Blonde, Blue-eyed angel who is blind
  • Sex on a “bird’s nest”
  • A hedonistic city, SoGo, named after the Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah
  • The bisexual, dominatrix, Villain who desires girl on girl action
  • Hitchcock-like killer birds (I wonder if they pooped on Fonda’s humongous hair?)
  • The Porn-‘Stache
  • Traveling through plastic tubes
  • Orgasms through pills and holding hands
  • An organ-like device that can kill through an intense orgasm
  • The perverted, mad scientist

Okay so a few things to comment on.  Is that hunter guy hairy or what?! Talk about a bear! Hey, whatever floats your boat.

How erotic is that angel? How would you like to be so good at sex that you can make an angel fly again? And do it on a nest?

Barbarella_post-7 Anita Pallenberg plays the brunette nemesis who wants to have sex with Barbarella.  She refers to her as “Pretty-pretty” and advertises “Do you want to come and play with me? For someone like you, I charge nothing.” How much like porn is this? Well, not really. It involves more foreplay than sexual actions.  Besides, this movie speaks volumes of the sexual awakening of that era.

Barbarella_post-4 The guy with the pornstache, Dildano (great name), is played by David Hemmings, the same actor from Antonioni’s Blow Up.  He is very sexy.

The celebrated French mime, Marcel Marceau also appears in this movie.

Barbarella_post-6Barbarella_post-1 Inspired by Paco Rabanne, Barbarella has numerous, memorable costume changes.

In 2007, Sin City director Robert Rodriguez announced he wants to remake Barbarella with Rose McGowan. I love Rose and I am fascinated with Rodriguez’s cinematic vision. I have no doubt that they can achieve something interesting yet I am very wary.  I wish they’d come up with something original and relevant.  If they love this Vadim movie so much, then they should help finance a re-release or revival of some sort.

Final Thoughts
Barbarella is a unique film.  Many consider it a horrible movie and many praise it fanatically. Not many can match this sci-fi erotica genre, the closest being The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Whether your opinion on it is in extreme disgust or extreme awe, you have to agree that there is no other movie quite like Barbarella.  I mean, no one sets out to make a movie this horribly bad—only to have it end up so iconic.

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