Probably the most famous and best fetish film wrapped around the wife of the director, and largely a love-letter to her sensuality ever put on the big screen (In a few yrs Bo Derek in Tarzan would be similar, but nowhere near as much fun).
I can’t say too much about this film, as it’s close to my heart and is so well known, misunderstood and pointlessly critiqued ad nauseam as to leave one feeling like you’ve just swum the channel only to find out that you got turned around midway and have landed back where you started. It hurts sometimes to have to explain to a modern consumer of pop culture what you’re supposed to “enjoy” or “get” from this sort of film. The answer is: nothing. You either enjoy Fonda in a bunch of playful peril while wearing silly and flattering costumes (like they raided an expensive BDSM bordello) or you simply don’t. The plot of the tale isn’t really worth going into. Barbarella is a futuristic space traveling agent and has been assigned a mission to find Duran Duran. All this just an excuse to surround the beauty with really terrific psychotropic settings and performances from a variety of ultra hip late sixties personalities.
From my perspective, I can’t imagine making a more fun movie with such a lovely wife who can almost do the scenes justice. She actually looks far better in the stills than she does in the film. In the stills she seems to have the right sense of surprise, wonder and even proper fright. In the film she kind of wanders around like she’s shopping at the local Target. No matter, it’s not the sort of film where she needs to dig into the sense memories of her pain and suffering, the truth is any high school drama class lass could have done this film, and possibly done it better. I know I’m being mean. I love the film, I just wish someone other than Fonda had been the star. Fonda is fine. She’s lovely, and she carries the unusual costumes at least as well as some of the actors in later loopy sword and sorcery flicks will. But there’s something about Fonda that speaks more to a hardened fist than a wonder-struck hapless damsel. It’s my tastes, and this film really gets at such things. I’m sure some folks laugh all the way through and that’s just fine too. I had one old friend say he never got past the opening sequences of our heroine stripping. I get that. I get that the kookiness almost a decade before we’d all be wow’d by the likes of Star Wars comes across as almost purposefully B-grade, and I would insist that that’s ninety percent of the charm.
I sometimes have these substitution fantasies, like a crazed sports fanatic who dreams of augmenting teams with maverick players. What if they’d used Claudia Cardinale or Anouk Aimee? What would the very cute Yvonne Craig or Tuesday Weld have done with the role? What if they’d just flipped the Fonda and Pallenburg parts? Is it possible I’m just saying Jane doesn’t do it for me? Sigh.
OK I’m sorry, I get carried away. Let me just say this is a very fun and unique film like nothing else ever released to the big screen. Some of the events Jane clomps through while lazily delivering an “Oh my!”, are so wacky you can’t help imagining the creative team giggling in a pot-induced haze. And really, some of the sets and creatures seem right out of Saturday morning Puff n’ Stuff, but never does anything seem familiar (my favorite thing about it). Great care was taken in avoiding falling into common Greek mythos (all the rage at the time) or borrowing from action adventure and handing Barbarella the warrior skills that would have caused the thing to lose all it’s perfect charm. Barbarella’s skills of wit and thoroughly enjoyable Alice-In-Wonderland good fortune are what drives the sweetness of the enterprise.
Perhaps it’s time for a revival and a remake. I mentioned Anita, but John Phillip Law is here as Pygar, and he’s just terrific. He’ll be coming up in another old favorite to review shortly.
Just a few Bucks on Prime. Enjoy!