Looking Back At BARBARELLA - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Looking Back At BARBARELLA

Geek Dave tunes in...

In a distant future, there is no more war or weapons on Earth, just love. The astronavigator Barbarella (Jane Fonda) is assigned by the President of Earth (Claude Dauphin) to seek out the scientist Durand- Durand (Milo O'Shea), who has invented the powerful Positronic Ray and vanished in the Tau Ceti area. Barbarella crashes on an icy planet and is saved by the catchman Mark Hand (Ugo Tognazzi) from an attack of dangerous dolls with razor teeth. She rewards him with sex, natch, and Mark tells her that Durand-Durand should be in the city of Sogo. Now Barbarella begins a dangerous journey to save Earth from Durand-Durand.

And that in a nutshell is the premise of the fantastical fantasy camp-fest known as Barbarella which opened on October 10th 1968. A lavish, original production which by today's standards is easy to write off as quaint, but I personally adore the non-CGI inventiveness of this era. Alongside the amazingly creative costumes, decorations, and scenery in general., there are the wacky machines and unlikely objects which Barbarella finds herself examining and using throughout the 98 minutes of fun-packed enchantment, almost all are a constant joy to behold.

Another joy to behold is Barbarella herself! Director Roger Vadim made a very wise decision casting Jane Fonda in the title role, her on-screen charisma is both vibrant and compelling. Plus, she was his wife at the time, so that probably helped sway the decision. But if you've not watched this film in some time it's easy to forget just how beautiful Jane Fonda was during the 1960s (and continues to be to this day), she really is breathtakingly gorgeous in every frame. And the girl can act! Plenty of ability is required for this light, almost-comedic role, so Ms Fonda is far from just "window-dressing" despite the Italian penchant for stylistic excess.

I appreciate that in 2020 it's not very politically correct to comment about an actress like I have above, but when you consider that this was made years before she was flogging aerobics videos, and at a time when she was riding a steep career curve upwards, a movie like this must've been seen as a huge gamble for Jane Fonda because what is called for her character is unlike anything you'd expect someone in her situation to undertake. Yes, we're talking the s-e-x. And because Barbarella is oozing with piping-hot erotic ambiance with our heroine having sex with many other characters, both in the 'traditional' sense and also in a very futuristic way (Barbarella takes a pill to 'tune-in' to her partner's psyche, and no bodily contact takes place except hand-clasping.), it's impossible to write any kind of retrospective without going down the un-PC route.

As for the rest of the cast, Milo O'Shea as the evil Durand-Durand (the band Duran Duran taking their name from this character) does a decent job in his role, so does John Phillip Law as the pure and gentle angel, Pygar. His perfect body and square-jawed, handsome face, made him a devilishly attractive 'angel'. Anita Pallenberg plays the Great Tyrant, with femme fatale relish and with the lesbian sexual undertones between her and Barbarella being absolutely sizzling. There's even a role for the legendary French mime artist Marcel Marceau.

It's clear that the tone of Barbarella was deeply influenced by the uninhibited adventurous spirit of the late 1960s, especially with regards to its bold, exciting sexual themes. But thanks to the overall style presented, Barbarella has a near timeless quality. It's camp, it's often silly, but it's very much a classic, and more than anything, it is very very beautiful.

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