Barbarella

Sensuous space-siren in seriously searing 'sploitation situation
Released:
1968

Director: Roger Vadim

Starring: Jane Fonda, Marcel Marceau, John Phillip Law, Ugo Tognazzi

The Setup:

Sexy 60s space kitten tours the galaxy looking for Duran Duran [not the band], having sex with virtually everyone she meets on the way.

Discussion:

This is truly right up there with Xanadu and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls in its astonishingly dense cheese-per-frame ratio. There are SO MANY frames I wanted to pull out to show you, at a certain point you just have to see the whole movie. No, I'm serious, you REALLY need to see the whole movie [if you haven't already, of course]. This is a justified and righteous cheese classic.

The movie begins with the famous sequence of Jane Fonda as Barbarella getting undressed as she floats in seeming zero-gravity within the interior of her brown fur-lined spaceship, itself floating in a tiny glass of bubbles. You can see that this was accomplished by having her lying on a sheet of plexiglass [you can sometimes see a reflection], but it's remarkably effective. She conducts this striptease, expression of ecstasy on her face, flinging the letters that form the titles out of her clothes.

When I first watched this movie, I had the expectation that Barbarella was a proto-feminist Jane Bond character who stormed the galaxy kicking ass while taking responsibility for her own orgasms. How wrong I was. This is basically a playful exploitation of poor Jane [by her then-husband], a relic of the swingin' 60s that out-Austin Powers Austin Powers in sheer randiness, tacky set design, and hilariously bad dialogue.

After her space-strip, Barbarella is called on by her boss. She takes the meeting in the nude. This, the first scene with dialogue, is the first scene in which you realize that the dialogue is going to be a HOOT. My special favorites are Jane's utterly vapid-yet-cheerful delivery of short little lines like "A secret?" and later, "Pygar!" and, as she's about to be attacked by birds, "Oh how darling!" By the end of this scene, she has stated her shock that a group of people on a distant planet "could still be living in a primitive state of neurotic irresponsibility." She is given the mission to find Duran Duran [this is where the band's name came from], and a bunch of phallic weapons, which make her feel "armed, like a naked savage." She enters hyperspace, which resembles a bunch of oil-and-water patterns, and at one point, a sparkler held just outside her window. There is some mechanical problem, however, which requires Jane to roll around the interior of her fur-lined ship in her skimpy outfit for an uncomfortable amount of time before she crashes on a plastic ice planet.

There she ice-skis with two twin girls, pulled by a cosmic stingray that slides along the ice. At this point, if you are under 30, you might ask yourself: "Who WERE these humans that created such films upon this Earth?" Another pertinent question that anyone might have, is: "How could Jane Fonda ever show her face in public after this?" I applaud her for overcoming such a seemingly insurmountable shame.

Anyway, so the twins take her to a cave where more evil twins arrive, and they tie her up and set some robotic biting dolls upon her. This scene is very bizarre and somewhat disturbing. Then enters one of my top ten erotic film heroes of all time: MARK HAND.

Mark is played by Ugo Tognazzi, who later went on to be the guy married to the drag queen in La Cage Aux Folles. Here he is bearded, deep-voiced and Italian-accented, wearing a Chewbacca outfit from the neck down, and leering at Barbarella's charms as only a middle-aged sleazy Italian can. Mark, MAKE LOVE TO ME. He takes Barbarella to his ship, where, as a possible thank you, he suggests "Well, you could let me. make love to you." Hop on in, Mark, is what I'd say, but Barbarella, who, like her Earth peers, no longer has physical sex but just holds hands and takes drugs, has never experienced real, skin-to-skin, hairy man-sex, which is just what Mark finally gives her, as the swingin' 60s music sounds. Gay bears will burn their eye sockets out as Mark removes his fur suit to reveal that he is virtually just as hairy underneath. When they're finished, Barbarella is in a haze, singing to herself, like something out of Belle du Jour. Mark, MAKE LOVE TO ME.

Foolish Jane leaves poor, lonely Mark, who wanted nothing more than to pleasure her all night and all day, forlorn on his ice planet [actually she doesn't exactly leave the planet], because, like most women, she prefers the pretty, blond, smooth-chested dullard Pygar to Mark's hairy charms. She does leave Mark with a hilarious "Thanks again. for everything," especially notable to those who may have never heard a line like that delivered completely without irony.

So where Pygar lives is this also-disturbing floating maze-thing in which people wander around aimlessly when not slowly growing into the rock walls. Pygar and Barbarella have angelic sex [though please note the distinction that "an angel doesn't make love, an angel IS love"] that makes Pygar feel like a man again. One of my favorite moments if when he returns to the nest [yes, they made love in a nest] and says "I've regained my will to fly!" and Barbarella responds with a curt "I know."

There is then an extremely lame space battle featuring crappy model ships on strings exploding with the force of firecrackers, and during this time you start to be amazed at the large number of things that STAR WARS stole from this movie! You have Mark as Chewbacca, these space battles, the big positronic ray at the end, which looks exactly like the Death Star death beam, and many other things. It is also funny to imagine George Lucas as a horny youngster "being influenced" by this movie. After the fight, Jane, for no reason whatsoever, shoves her gun down Pygar's crotch with a polite "excuse me." They also engage the black guards, who, we are told, "are leathermen, but they're without any fleshy substance." You mean leathermen like the guy in the Village People?

Anyway, it goes on in this vein, but for me the interest starts flagging a bit, though the movie doesn't let up. One high point is when Barbarella is strapped into some orgasmatron machine, which is like an organ [I mean the musical instrument organ] that kills you with pleasure. Well, they didn't count on Barbarella, and her infinite capacity to experience sexual pleasure, which blows out the circuits of their feeble machine. Such is the depths of her sensuality. I also like the scene in which she's attacked by parakeets, who, like the marauding amphibians in Frogs, do not really attack, they just sit on you while you write in apparent agony.

Periodically the music kicks in, which was co-written by Bob Crewe and performed by the Bob Crewe Generation. This is the guy that co-wrote famous 60s hits such as "Walk Like a Man" and "Big Girls Don't Cry," and went on to co-write "Lady Marmalade." The music here is exactly what you'd want, prime sounds for any pad.

What can I say? Overall this thing is amazing from first frame to last. Oh, and one last thing; Mark, MAKE LOVE TO ME.

Should you watch it?

You betcha.

RELATED FILMS:
DANGER: DIABOLIK is also produced by Dino De Laurentiis, stars Pygar, John Phillip Law, and is kind of a male counterpart to this movie.

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