Barbarella (1968)

“An angel does not make love; an angel is love.”

Barbarella Poster

Synopsis:
In the distant future, a sexually liberated female astronaut (Jane Fonda) is sent by the President of Earth (Claude Dauphin) to find a nefarious scientist (Milo O’Shea) who has invented the ultimate weapon — the Positronic Ray.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary asserts that despite the dizzying amount of activity occurring throughout this cult futuristic film — based on an adult comic strip by Jean-Claude Forest — it’s nonetheless “quite dull”. He writes that “the whole production… lacks imagination” and that “Barbarella herself is a weak heroine”, given that “her actions have little effect on what transpires at the end”. He notes that the “film’s cult has to do with [both] the campy humor” — which he finds “unintentionally amusing” — as well as the “uninhibited, scandalously garbed Fonda”, who “gives her body to all men who assist her”. He complains that director Roger Vadim (married to Fonda at the time) “subjects his heroine to ghastly tortures while she is either nude or having her clothes ripped off”, and posits that “trying to stimulate men by showing pretty women being physically abused is irresponsible”.

In Cult Movies 2 (where he analyzes the film in more detail), Peary notes that Fonda herself has claimed Barbarella isn’t one of her “many mistakes” (“I like it — it’s fun”, she’s insisted, without elaboration). Actually, the erstwhile brouhaha over Barbarella‘s role in Fonda’s otherwise (mostly) esteemed acting career feels entirely irrelevant these days, given that she’s no longer so actively in the limelight, and her recent attempts at an acting comeback have been less-than-memorable. Ultimately, I agree with Peary that the film — while undeniably visually provocative — is essentially an “innocuous” and dull piece of ’60s soft-core fantasy erotica. For instance, where’s the humor in exchanges like the following (taken from IMDb’s Quotes page)?:

Dildano: [radioing instructions to the rebel army] And our password will be… Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.
Barbarella: You mean the secret password is Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch?
Dildano: Exactly.

I’ve seen Barbarella twice, and read about it plenty — but the point of its needlessly convoluted storyline continues to elude me, and I can only understand its cult appeal on an intellectual level.

Note: The best-known piece of trivia associated with Barbarella is the fact that the ’80s English rock band Duran Duran named itself after the central villain, “Durand-Durand” (O’Shea).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Imaginative set designs and costumes
    Barbarella Fonda
    Barbarella Sets2
    Barbarella Sets

Must See?
Yes, once, simply for its cult status.

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One Response to “Barbarella (1968)”

  1. Must-see, as a cult classic. Whether you return to it for repeat viewings is a matter of taste (but I see it now and then and enjoy it each time).

    I think Peary approached this film as though he were watching something in the ‘Ilsa’ series. If that were the case, I would tend to agree with him. But I think an appreciation of ‘Barbarella’ depends on looking at it on its own terms. (Of course, it’s another thing if you actually do that and still don’t enjoy it, but…)

    I just recently rewatched ‘Barbarella’ in blu-ray. One of the things about blu-ray is it can sometimes definitely alter your view of a film if you had previously seen it in a less-refined form. It can sometimes make a really good film (like ‘Vertigo’) even better (as if you’re seeing it for the first time), or it can increase your enjoyment of a kind of so-so movie because you’re seeing its visual elements in a more striking manner.

    ‘Barbarella’ looks terrific in blu-ray. It’s not a great movie (it could possibly be the only Roger Vadim movie that I personally like) but I agree with Fonda when she says it’s “fun”. I don’t think the intent is to degrade women in it. I think it’s a popcorn sci-fi flick rooted in the idea of ‘sexual adventures’. The cast is game and having a good time and I can’t imagine anyone but Fonda in the lead. Her delivery is spot-on, in her character’s naive yet valiant splendor.

    Apparently it took about 10 people to put the script together – which is normally not the way to go. Yet, a lot of the lines are very clever (i.e., “What’s that screaming? A good many dramatic situations begin with screaming.”) and there are enough of them to keep the film afloat. I’d like it if the film were even funnier than it is but I still find it consistently (and intentionally) amusing nevertheless.

    A fun thing to do with the movie when watching with friends would be playing ‘The Pygar Game’ – during which everyone can chug beer whenever Fonda says John Phillip Law’s name. She says it *a lot*.

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