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Barbarella - Picture 01



I love movies. I used to rent at least ten DVDs a week before I decided to slow down a bit. And I often end up buying the movie, television series or video compilation in question when I feel it can bear the repeated viewings. But for me, they have to be pure entertainment. I am not too keen on melodrama, non-stop frenetic action or anything too heavy in terms of violence and/or films with social messages. That is why camp movies like Barbarella appeal to me so much. They're like cotton candy for the eye. This movie was directed by Roger Vadim who was a notorious French director of that period. He was married to Jane Fonda at the time and cast her as the sultry special agent from outerspace called Barbarella.

Now, I am absolutely sure you know who Jane Fonda is. She is a distinguished academy award-winning actress who had a movie career spanning five decades. She won two oscars for best actress: the first was in 1971 for the movie Klute co-starring Donald Sutherland and the second was in 1976 for the movie Coming Home. She also won six Golden Globe awards and an Emmy for Dollmaker. Her contribution to the world of cinema is undeniable. But personally, I never enjoyed her as much as I did in this futuristic camp movie...

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I remember vividly the first time I saw that film. It was in 1978 and I was only ten years old. As a television addict, I was glued to the set for hours on end. I was especially fond of watching movies. There was a feature presentation one Saturday evening (I was allowed to stay up late on week-ends) and I happened to catch it. The movie was just starting and I was instantly hooked. The impact it had on me was both instantaneous and enormous. As soon as I saw that face and those long blond locks, I was enthralled and couldn't keep my eyes off her...

But I certainly wasn't the only one who fell in love with that gorgeous queen of the galaxy... Did you know that the famous Duran Duran music formation, which had a string of hits from the mid-80's til the early 90's, was named after a character from that movie? I read somewhere that the guys from the band saw the film as young kids and were so taken by Jane's beauty that they adopted the name of the mad scientist, which is Barbarella's nemesis in the movie, as their own...

Also, their last hit in 1997 was called Electric Barbarella where a blond Barbarella-looking robot is featured in the accompanying video-clip. Wild boys is another song of theirs which makes references to the Barbarella character where we see excerpts from the movie in the video-clip. And finally, the clip for the song Burning the ground starts off with some classic lines taken from the movie with the actual voices of Jane Fonda and "Claude Dauphin" who portrays the President:

President: "Barbaralla..."
Barbarella: "Mister President..."
President: "Your mission then... Find Duran Duran"
Barbarella: "Just a minute... I'll slip something on"



Also, even though I didn't really comprehend it at the time, I was instantly sucked into the action by the music. Music is a very powerful tool movie-makers can use to entice a viewer into their new vision of a concocted reality. The whole soundtrack from that movie has haunted me for years afterwards, particularly the title song. It was one of those perfect kind of synthetic-sounding melody which I always loved. And even though this was done in 1968, it still sounds incredibly good today surprisingly enough...

But mainly, it was Jane Fonda herself that had me completely mesmerized. To my recollection, I had never seen such a beautiful woman up until that time. To me, she really looked like some living Barbie doll, with perfect features and a gorgeous mane of thick blond hair. I have this weird fixation on women's hair for some reason. I love women with long hair and, when they decide to cut it off, it almost feels like a sacrilege to me. And in this, Jane has perfect hair: blond, very thick, wavy and long enough to cover the upper part of her back. The kind of hair any woman would kill for...

The way the movie begins is a classic scene which is greatly responsible for the cult status the movie has generated over the years. We see someone floating around in a space suit. At first, we don't really know who hides in the suit but, when the entity removes a glove (with the very effective emphasis on that action created by the music), we find out that it is a woman's hand and then, the sexy fun begins... She starts to undress, peeling off the suit parts one by one until she is totally nude. The combination of the music and the flashing images is very similar to a modern video-clip, even though they didn't exist at the time...

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The first time in the scene where we see a close-up of Jane as Barbarella is when her helmet, which had been dark until then, slowly lowers to reveal her face. I remember gasping at the sight of this creature which looked like no other woman on earth. She was so beautiful to me that I never recovered from that first look. For years afterwards, I judged women's beauty based on that incredible face I had seen on the screen.

In that first scene, she prances around in weightlessness, gradually peeling every bit of clothing while the camera focuses on each part of her body, showcasing them in a way that is highly arousing. True, we don't see much of anything even though she gets completely nude... A few snippets of nipple shots here and there but that's about it. After all, we are talking about 1968 here and it was still extremely daring to show nudity on the screen in those days.



If you haven't seen the movie already and don't want me to spoil it for you, don't read this section as I give some important plotlines away. But you know what? I don't think that knowing in advance some of what occurs will take away your pleasure in watching this little gem. After all, this movie is really only an excuse to showcase Jane in all her glorious youthful beauty. And trust me, just to see all the costumes she wears and to gawk at that face and body is worth the price of rental. Better yet, just buy it like I did...

The years is 40 000. Yup, when you write a story as farfetched as this one, might as well go all the way! Barbarella is an agent from earth who is travelling around the galaxy in a spaceship which, by the way, looks like a pink house for birds with three giant pulsating bubbles as a propulser... Those props and sets bring the term cheesy to a whole new level. The President of earth and "Rotating premier of the sun system" calls her, just after she has finished her little striptease. They can see each other on a view screen and Barbarella stays nude the whole time... Mmmmm. Anyway, the president has called to give her a mission: find Duran Duran...

He is a scientist, who has invented a powerful weapon called the positronic ray. He supposedly disappeared without a trace a few weeks back and the last time anybody saw him was on some faraway planet. Barbarella is somewhat "forced" into accepting the assignments and receives many weapons and a tongue box to help in her mission. She instructs her computer (voiced by an actor doing a gay impersonation with a very campy voice) to wake her up in 154 hours which is the time it will take to reach the planet.

As she sleeps on a sheer plastic bed, the camera captures her from below giving us a look at her gorgeous body. As she wakes up and prepares to land, the spaceship is caught in some kind of magnetic distorsion which causes it to crash to the surface. While on the planet in some icy desert, she encounters a set of young female twins. They take her prisoner, tie her up and, with the help of a bunch of weird-looking children, try to kill her with a series of evil dolls with grinding teeth (don't ask...).

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She is rescued by "Mark Hand", the "catchman" whose job is to watch the kids until they're old enough to be of a "serviceable" age. He wears a big furry suit, looking like a big cuddly bear. By the way, that character is played by "Ugo Tognazzi" who was "Albin" in the French movie from 1978 called "La Cage aux Folles" or "Birdcage" in English. There was an American remake done recently with Robin Williams and Nathan Lane as the bickering gay couple...

Well, this is where the true "soft-porn" begins... To thank him for saving her, she asks him what he wants in return and he says: "You could let me make love to you". Barbarella isn't against the idea and reaches for her pills. The "pills" are the way earth people now make love. If their electrocardiogram is compatible, they mate by taking a pill and then, put their hand together until full rapport is achieved. The "catchman" in question prefers to make love the old-fashion way and thus, Barbarella discovers sexual bliss for the very first time.

After they have made love (which is not seen), the way she softly sings while caressing her face with a feather, in a big close-up, hints on a sexual awakening that will lead her to search for those new sensations again all through the movie... What is implied here is that Barbarella was made love to for the first time in her life and more importantly, she liked it, without any shame or apologies... In that scene, Barbarella is again completely nude but we only see glimpses of her body through the sheer material from the guardian vessel. But once again, Vadim succeeds in showcasing Jane's body to full effect and the result is stunning.

After Mark Hand helps repair Barbarella's damaged ship, she tries to fly it only to crash again deep inside the planet's crust. She ventures outside and is attacked by a black guard. They are synthetic entities without any fleshy substance whose purpose is to protect the Black Queen, also referred to as "The Great Tyrant". Barbarella is saved by "Pygar", a creature looking like a male angel with big white wings. He is played by the very tall striking "John Philip Law", a blond stud who is very hot.

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Barbarella flies to Sogo in the arms of Pygar so she can resume her search for Duran Duran. While over there, Pygar is taken prisoner and Barbarella meets The Great Tyrant played by a gorgoeous italian actress named Anita Pallenberg whose notoriety is mostly due to this movie. The Black Queen takes a big interest in her, calling her "pretty pretty" which gives way to a classic line, perfectly delivered by Jane: "My name isn't pretty pretty, it's Barbarella...".

The Great Tyrant is very taken with Barbarella's beauty which is very obvious everytime the two women appear together in a scene... We can sense the intent of the director to portray the two women as having a certain sexual chemistry, even though nothing concrete really happens on that front... Yet, I surprised myself wishing it had. To think that this movie came out in 1968 is somewhat amazing. I mean, this is explicit stuff!

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The lesbians overtones are only implied but in a very deliberate way. Roger Vadim consciously decided to give the public a bit of what they wanted to see, even before it became socially acceptable. Don't forget, this was the late 60's and, even though the 70's would see a big sexual awakening, he was still one of the first directors to show it to the audience of the time. The public craved more explicit sexual material and Vadim knew exactly how to do it.

Barbarella meets the concierge who is the right-hand of the Black Queen and is played by Milo O'Shea. She doesn't know it yet but he is Duran Duran who has aged prematurely because of the effect of the matmos, a liquid substance on which the city was constructed who feeds from evil. He tries to kill her with a machine where you die from sexual pleasure. Not only does she survive but she ends up blowing up the damn thing. Apparently, Barbarella is a naughty girl and has exhausted the machine of its energy. This is sex on a whole new level. I will stop there and won't give anything else away but from what you read, I am sure you know by now what to expect.



I heard recently that Jane Fonda considers "Barbarella" a bad omen in her career. In her mind, playing some brainless "chick" in a cheesy sci-fi convoluted flick goes against the very nature of her career where she always strived to get respect as an actress. She was 29 at the time she shot the movie and soon after this, would completely change her looks and the focus of her career. To illustrate this point, just take a look at the movie Klute released in 1971 a mere three years later than Barbarella. Jane looks so different that it almost feels like it isn't the same person.

But you know what? There is absolutely no reason why she should be embarassed by Barbarella. On the contrary, she can be very proud of that movie. Her performance is nothing short of amazing. When I first viewed it, I didn't have the proper insight into understanding just how good her acting really is. But now, having watched it numerous times as an adult, I can see how she was playing the character as a parody while letting the audience in on the joke. Satire is one of the most difficult genre to achieve in cinema. If an actor overacts in any way, the character will end up looking ridiculous. Here, Jane makes Barbarella a highly sexy and yet, innocent creature.

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But the whole time, Jane subtly makes us aware that she is acting her ass off. Here is this extremely intelligent woman playing a bimbo in the most convincing way possible. The work of a truly great actress. The way she delivers her lines is brilliantly calculated to project just enough tackiness to be enjoyable while still remaining believable. Barbarella is a soft-porn erotic comedy disguised as a bad sci-fi movie. Everything in it is tacky: the clothes, the sets, the plot, the acting... But the big difference between this and a truly bad film is that it is tacky on purpose. Therefore, it defined itself as a camp movie even before the term was invented.

"Roger Vadim" was a master in showcasing beautiful women in a very enticing manner through his movies. Before this, he had wed and then transformed "Brigitte Bardot" into an international sensation in 1957 with a single film called Et Dieu créa la femme (And God created woman) which was a massive hit all over the world.

Et Dieu créa la femme was really a soft-core porn movie pretending to be a mainstream film. Seen today, the movie looks very tame but at that time, it caused endless scandals and was prohibited in most movie houses. Which is why it started to play in underground and more raunchy establishments, becoming a huge hit which nobody could afford to ignore. Vadim was constantly trying to push back the limit of what could be shown on the screen in terms of nudity and sex. And after his success with Bardot, he proceeded to do the same for Jane, transforming her into the perfect sex kitten most men dreamed of.

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In Barbarella, Jane Fonda really looks like the reincarnated fantasy of what many heterosexual men look for in a sexual mate... And as a bisexual man myself, she completely knocked all my senses in terms of feminine beauty. And Roger Vadim knew exactly how to showcase her with every camera angle making love to this incredible creature. If you see the movie on the first level, you will probably find it all very silly and farfetched to the extreme. Everything is so exaggerated that you can't help but laugh at every absurdity the director came up with.

But once you analyze it on a deeper level, you start to realize just how brilliant this movie is. The spaceship with wall to wall carpeting, the slutty revealing clothes, the very cheap special effects, the cheesy sets, the revealing camera angles... Everything was put there to create a world in which a highly sensual character like Barbarella could flourish. In a way, Barbarella is one of the last "truly bad" movie ever made. But when a bad movie is made with such creative erotic visual imagery, it can only become a classic of the first order.

"Barbarella" is one of my very favorite movies of all time. I have tried for years to find another movie which could work the same magic. But I never found anything like this. The direction, the endless parade of cheesy sets and costumes, the countless classic lines which are perfectly delivered by the actors, the wonderful soundtrack... All those things have made this movie a true masterpiece in my book. But mainly, it is that gorgeous creature which has stolen my heart. Jane has succeeded in fleshing out a truly wonderful, sexy and very funny heroine. One which I will worship for the rest of my life...

Long live Barbarella!

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