I spend most of my time cursing the ill-fated timing of my birth. Being 23 in the 1980s seems like it would be oodles more fun than being 23 in 2010. That’s right, I said ‘oodles.’ We have yet to colonize the moon, Mars, or develop teleportation, so in the eyes of 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s science fiction, mankind is woefully behind schedule. To make matters worse, no one is eating sushi dusted with flakes of gold in Tokyo anymore. But watching Roger Vadim’s psychedelic softcore, sci-fi trip-fest BARBARELLA (1968) makes me wonder if the 1960s were actually the best time ever to be alive. Everyone involved had be seriously high to produce of a movie of such outstanding quality. (And Roger Vadim, who was married to both Brigitte Bardot and Jane Fonda, has to be the luckiest man ever.)
From the first frame of Barbarella, I knew I was going to love this movie. Jane Fonda’s Barbarella performs a zero-g striptease act while Bob Crewe and Charles Fox serenade you with the film’s title theme – spouting poetic gems like “Barbarella psychadella / There’s a kind of cockleshell about yooou.” Meanwhile, the credits float around the screen, discreetly protecting Barbarella’s modesty while she removes her high-tec space suit. You don’t even need to know what ‘cockleshell’ means to know that this movie is going to rock.
Based on a French comic by Jean- Claude Forest, Barbarella captures everything I love about cinema from the 1960s and 1970s. For me, cinema (particularly genres like science fiction and horror) exists to break rules – to be wild and free and challenging. Especially when compared to the sterilized, safe nature of Hollywood today, the films of the ’60s and ’70s are wonderfully energetic and really experimental. It’s no wonder so many cinematic classics were created during this time. Today, audiences and filmmakers are too aware of everything. Genres like science fiction and horror are rampantly self-referencial – very aware of where they come from and who they are made for. It’s almost like filmmakers are trying to say, “Look, I’m smart and I can add in all these clever nods to genre classics.” Meanwhile, the audience seems to have lost faith in the role of the filmmaker – to show us things about the world, to transport us to different worlds, and to tell us stories.
Roger Vadim doesn’t fall back on pretentious intellectualism or self-reference. Neither does Jane Fonda, who gracefully walks the line between shameless titillation and wide-eyed nonchalant deadpan. (Sure, Jane Fonda wishes she could forget the fact that she turned down Bonnie and Clyde and Rosemary’s Baby to star in Barbarella, but there are a lot of things I’d like to forget about Jane Fonda. Let’s call it a compromise.) Lacking the cynicism and snide cleverness of post-modernism, Barbarella is blissfully unself-conscious and innocent. And that’s very ‘cockleshell’ indeed. I’d tell you more about the plot, but it honestly doesn’t matter. Just watch the movie.
With that said, here it is – 12 Reasons to Love Barbarella and celebrate a time when storytelling was much more free and adventurous:
12. Women can be naked when they teleconference with the President, but they still must be wide-eyed and childishly innocent.
11. The members of the underground revolution use plastic slides (AKA ‘secret escape shoots’) to enter their secret base.
10. ‘Love’ is the universal greeting and farewell. You know, like ‘Aloha’ but for futuristic space hippies.
9. Lethal Eskimo twins that incapacitate you with snowballs then try to feed you to flesh-eating dolls with razor teeth. Someone was clearly stoned off their ass when they wrote this.
8. The most evil person in the universe is Duran Duran. (Or Durand-Durand, same thing.)
7. In the future, the interior of all space craft will be entirely covered with shag carpet. Take that static electricity.
6. The preferred method of torturing women is pleasuring them to death. Silly women, how dare you be capable of having multiple orgasms!
5. Casual sex (well, it’s the 60s so let’s say ‘free love’) is alive and well, but only if you take an Exultation Transference Pill first. Oh, you don’t like the Pill? Fine, whatever, do me anyways.
4. You can smoke Essence of Man. All you need is a giant fishbowl bong.
3. Pygar, the winged angel. Beautiful, blonde, blind and submissive – the sexual fantasy of every gay man alive.
2. Jane Fonda is hot…and constantly gets knocked unconscious. You do the math. (Hint: It involves sex.)
1. The outfits. Barbarella has a costume change every ten minutes. Seriously…dear god…THE OUTFITS!
PS – Back in 2009, there was talk of Robert Rodriguez doing a Barbarella remake (if Germany does financie the movie, they MUST have a scene with David Hasselhoff riding a dolphin…over a rainbow tidal wave). I love Rodriguez and I respect that fact that he enjoys having exclusive access to Rose McGowan’s vagina, but does anyone else question if McGowan has the chops to fill Jane Fonda’s shoes? (But, Rodriguez and McGowan may have split, I can’t keep track of all this celebrity stuff.)