Monday, February 3, 2014

Barbarella - 1968

"Barbarella" - 1968
Dir. by Roger Vadim - 1 hr. 38 min.


by Clayton Hollifield

There are no shortage of films that are essentially based around looking at a beautiful woman for an hour and a half.  Film is a visual medium, and looking at attractive people is one of the primary visual pleasures for all of us.  It helps if there's a decent story to pretend to care about when you're trying to defend your prurient interests, a little creativity goes a long way, too.  But even then, most of the time, everyone forgets about the film after a while, and if it's remembered, it's remembered for one scene (like Halle Berry's topless scene in "Swordfish," or Catherine Zeta-Jones' career highlight in "Entrapment") only.  "Barbarella" has turned into a cult classic, which means it's one of those films that people will put on after everyone else has gone to bed, but beyond all of that, it's really goofy and fun.

The movie opens with a zero-G strip tease by Barbarella (Jane Fonda) inside of her completely shag-carpeted spaceship, which is worth mentioning, and is eventually interrupted by the President of Earth (Claude Dauphin), with instructions to head further into space to retrieve Durand Durand, a lost scientist.  Barbarella wrecks her ship and is abducted by creepy children (on a sting ray-pulled ski-system).  She is rescued by Mark Hand (Ugo Tognazzi), the hairiest man who ever lived, and is introduced to the ancient method of intercourse, which agrees with her very much.  She continues on her quest to find Duran Duran, falling in love with an angel, Pygar (John Phillip Law), and eventually finds herself in Sogo, a city ruled over by The Great Tyrant (Anita Pallenberg), whom Barbarella finds herself at odds with.

When you think of what weird '70s sci-fi films look like, "Barbarella" fits into that like a glove, or a tight body-hugging contraption that Jane Fonda had somehow wiggled herself into.  Yes, it's low-budget, yes, it's indisputably a product of it's time, but at least there's some imagination here.  The entire look is bizarre (which you'll notice if you can take your eyes off of Fonda, which is admittedly very difficult), like a set designer went insane with naught but a French Curve and a set of day-glo paints in his hands.  I find this charming, and inventive, and something completely lacking in modern cinema.  The only real stylistic hallmark I can think that's emerged from the slavish adhesion to dull reality in modern sci-fi film design is the ability to make people look really, really small next to enormous machines that sometimes look like a wad of aluminum foil (any of the Transformers movies, for instance), but I hope that someone comes up with something more impressive (design-wise) before long, or we'll all have to admit that all of these computers have sapped the fun out of science-fiction.

Instead of boring concrete and metal, we have purple skies, spaceships furred out floor to ceiling, beautiful naked people pretty much everywhere, psychedelic images on every flat surface imaginable.  "Barbarella" is crammed full of insane, colorful visual ideas on every square inch of the screen, and that's even before you get to the fact that Jane Fonda is absolutely stunning, and on full display, and has an easy, playful charm that goes a long way to make the absolute bizarreness of "Barbarella" go down smoothly.  Like I said before, there's no shortage of eye-candy in the history of film, but there's got to be something more in order for a film based around that aspect to hold up at all.  In different hands, "Barbarella" could end up a horror story, or just not funny, or completely forgettable.  Fonda finds the right tone for her character (a sort-of gung-ho attitude that's not at all manipulative, or salacious, and it doesn't feel like a put-on, either), and everything follows that.  It's hard to even imagine another actress who could pull off this kind of role (and that has as much to do with the acting as Fonda's appearance), possibly one of the reasons that the long-rumored remake hasn't ever come to fruition.

"Barbarella" is a crazy, sexy, inventive, goofy, funny film.  It's tone and attitude mark is as clearly not being the product of the American film industry, and there's not a lot of movies like this one.  I don't know how to help you loosen up if you can't enjoy a scantily-clad Jane Fonda discovering her joy for good old-fashioned sexual intercourse, break an orgasm machine, search for Duran Duran in the arms of an angel with hilariously crude animatronic wings, and meet up with a guy named Dildano.  "Barbarella" is the definition of a good time, and was intended as such, so it's a bonus that there's a lot going on visually outside of Fonda to enjoy, as well.  Just make sure everyone else is already asleep, I don't know how you're going to explain Barbarella's fur ship, much less her strip tease, much less the general state of undress of nearly all the background characters, much less Dildano, to children.

3.5 / 5 - Streaming

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