Sunday, November 9, 2008

Film #83: Barbarella

Jane Fonda, then absorbed in the cheesecake phase of her career she no doubt regrets, teamed with her then-husband, overrated womanizer/director Roger Vadim, to produce 1968's campy adaptation of Jean-Claude Forest's French comic book Barbarella. Psychedelicized art direction by Luchino Visconti's house designer Mario Garbuglia (The Leopard, Rocco and His Brothers) and costume design (by Jacques Fonterey and cologne magnate Paco Rabanne) make this quirky cult film a visual treat as it follows super-sexpot Barbarella in her fight against loopy madman Durand-Durand (Milo O'Shea) who, of course, threatens peace in the universe.

Along the way, she's assisted by a blind angel played by John Phillip Law (who was himself a staple of Italian film and the star of producer Dino De Laurentiis' equally wild though much better Danger: Diabolik--the male Barbarella, as I like to refer to it, also from 1968 and directed by horrormaster Mario Bava). Barely clothed throughout (which I have to admit, is the main reason I like this movie), Fonda's Barbarella seeks advice at one point from the world's most famous mime, Marcel Marceau (in a rare speaking performance as Professor Ping) as well as from Blow-Up star David Hemmings as the suggestively monikered Dildano. Finally, she faces the lesbian Black Queen, played by a scenery-devouring Anita Pallenberg. Using her powerful sexuality, Barbarella vanquishes Durand-Durand and his Orgasmotron (the funniest scene in the film), as well as Pallenberg's memorable sharp-toothed, clothes-tearing devil dolls. As in all superhero movies, Barbarella, shall we say...comes out on top.Barbarella is a really idiotic, sloppy movie (it's ripe for a remake, supposedly to come with Rose McGowan as the lead--an idea which could do no damage to the film's worth). Despite having a script co-written by an obviously bombed-out Terry Southern (Candy, Dr. Strangelove, Easy Rider), it falls apart in its latter half, save for O'Shea's appearance as the famously named Durand-Durand (y'know...that the 80s? Oh, never mind...). But I do eat up its elegant design. And it has one of the most famous credits sequences ever--Fonda shedding her space suit to the tune of that fetching title song, sung by the now long-gone Glitterboxes (60s keyboard-meisters Ferrante and Teicher did a good version of it, too). And up until about 40 minutes in, I have great affection for its goofiness. But I get real bored as it gets bogged down in a plot I hardly care about. It's only Fonda's baby-doll-with-a-hot-box that gets me through it all. But that's enough, I gotta say! Whew!! That girl was FIT!!

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