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Armed…like a naked savage!

How can a thing so wrong be so right? When Roger Vadim decided to make a film based on Jean-Claude Forest’s comic book, it seems his primary motivation was simply to get then-wife Jane Fonda filmed in various states of nudity or in fetish wear. In fact, the film opens with a “zero gravity” strip-tease, as Fonda strips out of her space-suit, her naughty bits barely concealed behind the opening credits. And that pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the film.

The barest hint of a plot is that Barbarella, apparently the best secret agent in the employ of the President of Earth, has been sent to the Tau Ceti system to find the missing scientist Duran Duran. Tau Ceti is in one of the uncharted backwaters of the galaxy, and apparently the inhabitants are still “living in a primitive state of neurotic irresponsibility” which is of some concern to the President as Duran Duran also vanished with his Positronic Ray, a deadly weapon of his own invention. After a cheap psychedelic space journey, Barbarella crash lands in the Icy Forests of Weir, where a group of children nearly feed her to their carnivorous dolls. Yes, really. Luckily, she is saved by the Catch Man, who rounds up all the children to sell them into slavery. As repayment, he asks Barbarella to have sex with him. She assumes he means to take a pill and hold hands with her, as the people on Earth do now, since doing it the other way fell out of fashion when it was “proved to be distracting and a danger to maximum efficiency.” Fortunately for the people who came to see the film for naked Jane Fonda, Barbarella is eventually convinced that, sometimes, the old ways are best.

It’s hard to tell where Ugo Tognazzi leaves off and the costume begins. Also, her face is about ten inches higher up

The Catch Man suggests that Barbarella continue her search for Duran Duran in the city of Sogo. Unfortunately, on the way there she crashes her ship again, this time in the Labyrinth outside of Sogo. Sogo, you see, is the City of Night, ruled by the Great Tyrant, and it is a place where evil acts of all kinds are performed to feed the Matmos, an intelligent psychic lake beneath the city that feeds off negative energy. So, anything not evil is exiled to the Labyrinth. In a nice touch, the Great Tyrant feeds the prisoners in the Labyrinth orchids, because the Tyrant is amused to be inconvenienced by the great expense of feeding slaves orchids. Now, that’s evil. In the Labyrinth, Barbarella meets Pygar, last of the ornithithropes (i.e., an angel, and a blind one at that) and Professor Ping, who agree to assist Barbarella in her search for Duran Duran. But first, Barbarella has to help Pygar regain the will to fly. You can probably guess what method she uses to accomplish this task.

Pygar and Barbarella on her back. Again.

After a battle with the Great Tyrant’s Black Guards, Pygar and Barbarella sneak into the city. Now, given that she’s accompanied by a man with an eight foot wingspan, she doesn’t quite pull off the inconspicuous thing, and after a series of misadventures with the people of Sogo, in which Barbarella is nearly raped but saved and then nearly raped again by a one-eyed alliterative lesbian, she’s quickly captured by the Great Tyrant’s Concierge and taken before the Great Tyrant. Who, naturally, turns out to be the alliterative lesbian (the eye-patch was just a disguise so she could go about her city incognito…clearly she took her disguise hints from Clark Kent).

In the future, lesbians have horns. Apparently.

Barbarella narrowly escapes execution by parakeet (which she declares “Really much too poetic a way to die”) and joins up with the revolution, who agree to help her find Duran Duran if she lets them use the weapons on her ship to attack the city. That is, after the leader of the underground has sex with Barbarella. But he’s a gentleman and wants to use the pills, much to Barbarella’s disappointment. In any case, Barbarella is given the invisible key which unlocks the invisible door in the invisible wall which protects the Great Tyrant’s Chamber of Dreams, the only place in the city in which she is vulnerable. As the revolutionaries go to prepare their attack, Barbarella is almost immediately captured by the Concierge again and strapped into an erotic torture piano, which will kill her with pleasure.
She burns out the machine. She’s too much for it. But in the process she discovers that the Concierge is, in reality, Duran Duran, rendered unrecognizable by the severely aging effects of the depravities he has committed in Sogo. Discovering Barbarella has the key to the Chamber of Dreams, he forces Barbarella to take him there, locking both her and the Great Tyrant inside while he takes over the city, believing that both Barbarella and the Great Tyrant will be devoured by the Matmos for violating the cardinal taboo of the Chamber: the Tyrant must be alone while inside. Duran Duran’s crowning is interrupted by the inhabitants of the labyrinth attacking the city, a short-lived revolution thanks to Duran’s Positronic Ray. The Great Tyrant, however, is no fool, and she takes her vengeance on Duran Duran and her traitorous subjects by unleashing the Matmos into the city, where it devours everyone. Only Barbarella and the Tyrant are spared, as Barbarella’s great goodness renders her indigestible to the Matmos. Outside the city, they discover that Pygar has also survived the city’s destruction, and he, Barbarella and the Great Tyrant fly off to try and find out where Barbarella parked her space-ship.

Barbarella displays the proper place to store your weapons: in an angel’s crotch.

Barbarella, I doubt, was intended to be a bad film. Terry Southern wrote the script, and there’s a sense of self-mocking fun to be had. It straddles the fine line between “camp” and “farce.” And while the allegedly erotic elements tend to come off a bit silly, there’s still a Euro-Pop trashiness to them that manages to make them still work. There are cheap psychedelic effects and an, at times, frankly over-the-top “swinging” sound-track. But in the end it all sort of works. It’s one of those rare films that’s completely upfront about what it’s doing: no pretensions to art, no subtext, no political allegory, no toy-line to sell. Just a sci-fi comedy with sex and naked Jane Fonda. It’s compelling in it’s innocent willingness to be shamelessly over the top.

Post-Coital Barbarella

After the Catchman (Ugo Tognazzi) has his way with her:

After Pygar (John Phillip Law) has his way with her:

After Dildano (David Hemmings), leader of the failed revolution, has his way with her:

She really, really looks bored in that last picture, doesn’t she. Well, in case you think maybe she was just tired or something, here she is after Duran Duran’s piano has its way with her:

She enjoyed the inanimate object immensely. So Dildano really is just incompetent at everything.

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