Thursday, September 27, 2012

Barbarella (1968) - A Heroic Jane Fonda

Barbarella 1968 Jane Fonda
Warrior princesses have come back into style, but that wasn't always the case. There are actresses have movies in their past that they needed to make at the time but later wanted to forget. While definitely a star in Hollywood with a long list of acting credits in lead roles, Jane Fonda was looking for that one little push to become a superstar ("Cat Ballou" had done more for Lee Marvin's career than for hers). La Fonda used "Barbarella" (1968), a science fiction character, to get there. It worked, and forever after Jane Fonda ruled Hollywood.

Barbarella 1968 Jane Fonda

Directed by Fonda's then-husband Roger Vadim, written by Vadim and Terry Southern and adapted from the comic by Jean-Claude Forest and Claude Brule, "Barbarella" definitely accomplishes its purpose of making Jane into a top symbol of power and freedom. For years and years thereafter, though, Fonda almost never mentioned "Barbarella" again except when asked about it directly. During her protest phase, Fonda disparaged it. It didn't fit into her attempts to be taken "seriously" as an opponent of the Vietnam War and advocate for various other causes.

Barbarella 1968 Jane Fonda

However, more recently, Fonda has had a change of heart. She has spoken of "Barbarella" almost, um, Fonda-ly.
“I have a dream – to do a sequel to ‘Barbarella.’ Not a remake, a sequel! Look, I get shtupped by a blind angel, OK? Let’s just take it from there.”
Barbarella 1968

Fonda professes to see the humor in the whole premise.
“I think it could be funny – and feminist.”
Jane is a very complicated woman, evidently. While she blows the horn of empowerment and independence, Jane throughout her life has preferred the company of strong men - who she later spitefully disparages after she leaves them. Word is that, at the time, Jane just wanted to do whatever would make Vadim happy, and what made him happy in 1968 was "Barbarella." People who only see the political Jane are missing the underlying comfort she apparently finds in pleasing her man, which is not radical at all. If one wanted to psychoanalyze her, the political stuff that has caused her so much anger through the years can be seen as her acting out like a little girl against her daddy-figure fixation. The real Jane is on display as Barbarella, an intergalactic kitten prancing for her man.

Barbarella 1968 Jane Fonda

"Barbarella" led directly to Jane's award-winning role in "They Shoot Horses, Don't They," which Fonda herself apparently considers the turning point of her career.

Barbarella 1968

Some actresses have to go the full Monty and get naked to accomplish this task. Virna Lisi and Sophia Loren both angrily turned the role down because of its risque scenes. When it's too much for those two, it's pretty far out there... Jane was close enough to the Big Leagues to get away with only doing the most provocative of clothed poses. This film is a collection of such poses and little more. All the weapons look like giant dildos. My favorite line of dialog in the film? At the very beginning, when Barbarella is naked and receives a video call from the President, She says, "I'll put something on." His reply? "Don't trouble yourself." Hail to the Chief!

Jane Fonda lying on floor in furs in Barbarella
Jane looks like a giant bird in "Barbarella."
Yes, there is a plot, something about a space-age heroine who goes looking for the inventor of the machine that gives intense pleasure. Why she didn't just go to the local drug store and pick up some candy is a bit of a mystery. The "Barbarella" special effects are actually quite good. The background music, though, can be a bit much, sort of mariachi mixed with proto-disco.

Barbarella 1968 Jane Fonda

The tone of the film is set right from the opening credits, during which our heroine Barbarella does a teasing little striptease. It doesn't get any more intellectual after that.

Barbarella 1968 Jane Fonda

It is amazing to hear Jane's flat, no-nonsense accent joined with this wacky character. The dialog is just hilarious if you pay attention: "Have you seen an angel anywhere?"; "What is it?" "Essence of man."'; "Earth woman, do you know what I like" ... "I think I know"; "You are so good, you made the Matmos vomit."; "We are doomed...DOOMED."; "De-crucify him or I melt your face."; "To the Matmos with this winged fruitcake!"; Terry Southern just went to town with this script, it is absolutely hysterical if you can manage to understand all the rushed and mumbled lines.

Barbarella 1968 Jane Fonda

Add to that Jane's extremely odd vocal inflections (interrupted during hand gestures which apparently reflect some kind of deep interpersonal communion, Jane looks up and chirps, "Hello there!", as if the house mother just came in to serve tea). Fonda has a Dorothy-in-Oz rube-just-fell-off-the-turnip-truck guilelessness about her at times of extreme innuendo - and, at others, perfectly knowing smirks during moments of high camp - that makes it a wildly eccentric (and full of campy deliciousness) performance. Watching her fake a climax is just otherworldly, no other legitimate 60's actress would even have deigned to attempt it.

Barbarella 1968 Jane Fonda

John Phillip Law shows up as some kind of Angel, with wings and everything. He is as wooden as a California redwood. David Hemmings tries to act (he's pretty much alone in that, except for Fonda), and it just seems to confuse things. Anita Pallenberg keeps saying "pretty pretty," which was one of the film's defining catchphrases when it came out, and veers between wanton lust and maniacal posturing.

Barbarella 1968 Jane Fonda

Milo O'Shea, as Durand Durand, has some jaw-dropping scenes at the end that define (and had to inspire some Austin Powers sketches) the "maniacally cackling madman thinking he is about the 'Nothing can stop me now... master of the universe... hahahahahahaha.'"  But the focus always remains on our heroine, Jane.

Barbarella 1968 Jane Fonda

And, rightly so. There isn't any other reason to watch this confusing piece of Eurotrash other than Jane Fonda, and I say that with all due respect for "Barbarella" as the first full-length feature film comic book adaptation and thus a classic of the genre. But that is more than enough of a reason. It is incredible that Dino De Laurentiis produced this during a period when he spent a lot of time in Europe, but he always veered between quality and, shall we say, "common fare."

Jane Fonda on hands and knees in Barbarella 1968
Jane wears this outfit memorably in "Barbarella."
Who else but a New-Wave French auteur would have thought up something like this film? There are all sorts of weird Gothic elements to go along with the film's ultimate purpose, which is to showcase Jane in all her young glory. The production must have been a bit like the later Xanadu, with nobody quite sure what was happening, but just randomly throwing weird ideas out in hopes they would gel into some nuclear blast of pop art.

Barbarella 1968 Jane Fonda
This must have been a wild set to work on.
You know you are being exploited as you watch this, but I doubt you will care. This is simple fun, don't go looking for any deeper meanings. A favorite scene? When Barbarella gets attacked by killer dolls.

Barbarella 1968 Jane Fonda

They wanted to raise Jane's profile, and they did. Jane Fonda went from a generic Hollywood starlet to a phenomenon with "Barbarella." All of her liberal crusades came after this, flowing from the publicity she garnered which led to serious roles as in "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" and "Klute" (both of which, incidentally, also had very risque scenes).

Barbarella 1968 Jane Fonda

If she hadn't made this film, she probably wouldn't have become so full of herself and her own wonderfulness and sagacity that she wound up on that North Korean anti-aircraft battery during the height of the Vietnam War. That hurt a lot of people, and she regrets that misstep to this day. Some mistakes can't be retracted. Success can be double-edged. As I like to say, if you judged art by the politics of the artist, you could never enter a museum or turn on the Television. Once you go down that road, you may as well become a hermit, because most art is created by people you would never want to be in the same room with.

Barbarella 1968 Jane Fonda

But that was her mistake, not ours. There is nothing wrong with enjoying Jane showing off her curves before she unwisely got political. You can stir up quite a debate about which of Jane's films shows her off to her best advantage. Some would say "Klute," others "Cat Ballou," still others this film. There are several other good candidates, but the discussion at some point always swings around to "Barbarella."

Jane Fonda in black catsuit in Barabarella 1968
Jane Fonda, Warrior Princess, in "Barbarella."
After all, she is a good-looking woman. What was in her head is completely irrelevant, at least to me, and probably just a way to get back at daddy Henry or something (one does wonder what he thought of this). If you were at a strip club, would the lead dancer's views on Global Warming or the war in Iraq really be at the top of your list of priorities? So what if some bimbo had delusions of grandeur about her own views on politics ("If you understood what Communism was, you would hope, you would pray on your knees that one day we would become Communist" is one of her choicer quotes). Enjoy the view, forget what comes out of her mouth, and the vast majority of viewers will be much happier. If Jane wanted to show herself off, who are we to complain? She's not making money off of her old films, at least not money that she needs now. Ted Turner took care of that.

Jane Fonda waking up after sex in Barbarella
Jane has that just... woken up look in "Barbarella."
Fonda's strident stand against the Vietnam War was just a phase. Unfortunately, it received so much publicity that it that damaged her image forever. So, it makes more sense now to focus on her image before her showy arrests and her ill-advised visit to North Vietnam. She's quite enticing. Fonda apparently is in a "Born-again Christian" phase now. Clearly, the woman has no moral center and bounces from one extreme to another. I mean, really, the woman used to claim she was a Communist. Recall that Karl Marx wrote that religion was the opiate of the masses and that Stalin and Chairman Mao tried to wipe out religious thought. And now Fonda is born again? Give me a break. She was just following the fads of the day, without a thought in her head. The moral of the story is, focus on Jane's body (of work), not on her muddled personal thoughts. You may think I'm going on and on and on and on about her politics, but it's important to get that out of the way. Her opinionated blatherings of the past are the one thing that can get in your way of enjoying her curvaceousness, and really, nothing should intrude on that if you want to live in the present.

Jane Fonda Barbarella in spaceship with man
Hand jive!!!!! Watch Jane's hair go from straight to giant curls during this! His name is Dildano! No, they don't make them like "Barbarella" anymore.
Anyway, "Barbarella" was iconic. It had one noticeable effect that lasts to this day: the band Duran Duran took its name from the evil scientist "Durand Durand" (I guess that precise spelling seemed too, well, French for the British boys) whom Barbarella pursues. "I'm looking for Duran Duran," she keeps saying. So were a lot of hot girls in the '80s.

Barbarella 1968 Jane Fonda

The film also is notable for another reason. It is one of the first films ripped off from comic books. Before this film, comic book heroes only starred in serials like "Flash Gordon." You have this film to thank for "Iron Man 2"! Barbarella was a huge comic book success in France. It is very explicit, you know how those kinds of foreign comic books are. Could you have guessed?

Durand Durand in Barbarella
Durand-Durand sure is odd - wouldn't he rather be in that crazy machine with Barbarella?
That's the evil Durand Durand in the shot above. Funny, he doesn't look like Simon Le Bon. The more you look at the sets, by the way, the more you realize how much intense thought went into making them look like parts of the female and male reproductive system.

Jane Fonda doggy style in Barbarella 1968
It is the universe of a shag carpet! The fellow in the background can hardly contain his excitement in "Barbarella."
I know what you're thinking: no 40+-year-old film could possibly be of interest. Ha! On the other hand, to just disregard this film as exploitative trash is to underestimate it. This kept an awful lot of fighting men happy back in the late 1960s. Of course, many came to hate her later, but that has nothing to do with this film.

Jane Fonda hands and knees Barbarella 1968
Lips were big in the Sixties, but this is ridiculous.
One objective of Vadim seemed to be how many doggy-style poses he could get Jane into. This film pretty much answers that question. I saw somewhere that a very young Morgan Fairchild was Jane's stand-in during this film, which makes you wish for a time machine to visit the set. Incidentally, she tried out a lot of the standing poses in Cat Ballou a few years before this.

Barbarella 1968 Jane Fonda

Hopefully, you get the idea now. She struts, she juts, and every trick of provocative imagery that husband Roger could come up with is used at one point or another. There is some talk of a remake, but that never seems to happen - and besides, who could top Fonda in her prime? An awful lot of thought went into making this film, but you won't have a thought in your head as you watch it, except to admire a lovely young woman in her prime.

"Barbarella" is worth your time, check it out!

Jane Fonda Barbarella


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