Barbarella is a tawdry quirk of history—the moment when, during revolutionary uprisings in Paris and other European cities, a future left-wing activist-actress starred as a passive sexpot in a Flash Gordon-meets-Oz kitsch-fest stripping women's sexual revolution down to voyeuristic spectacle.

It all starts to come off with Barbarella (Jane Fonda, director Roger Vadim's then-wife) doing some zero-G undressing in her spaceship. Giving the expected salute—”Love!” with a hand held up—while stark naked, she talks to Earth's President about her mission; soon, she's trilling and tra-la-la-ing after being taught by men how to have actual sex again (back home, in 40 000 AD, it's “exultant transference” pills only). For the first 40 minutes, all Barbarella does is: breath, walk, occasionally stumble, shriek when threatened, and otherwise be the recipient of Vadim's, and so our, body-appraising gaze. Barbarella comes off as the flightiest and most hapless, passive woman in '60s mainstream flicks (and I'm including Bond girls in that ranking). Her only power's the experience of pleasure—which can be quickly put on display for us to enjoy.

This wanna-be skin-flick flimsily dresses itself up in cheap, see-through, psychedelic B-movie garb. There's kooky spectacle in this adaptation of Jean-Claude Forest's comic series, but Vadim imbues most scenes—amid gonzo sets, bizarro transport-craft, and campy outfits that all seem like rejected Doctor Who concepts—with a faux-arty lethargy that slumps into stiltedness. When Barbarella stares at a light- and lava-lamp show on a screen, she's what this flick wants us to be—passive spectators, tripping out pleasantly on oddball set-pieces and half-baked (or -toked) ideas, strung along in the scantily clad guise of a story.

Vadim would write a memoir about a trio of screen-siren wives—Bardot, Deneuve, Fonda: My Life With The Three Most Beautiful Women In The World—and Barbarella—where the guiding eye is that of a hack, making some stupidly silly pulp puffery—shows him as nothing more than Fonda's husband, trying to drive a gaudy star-vehicle for her. It crashed on release in '68 only to become a cult movie—but it's the sort of cult experience you need some serious intervention and deprogramming for, stat.

Tue, Nov 19 (7 pm)
Directed by Roger Vadim
Metro Cinema at the Garneau
Originally released: 1968

Leave a Comment