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Barbarella (1968)

One of the favored plot devices for generations of satirists is the Candide-like protagonist: a wide-eyed innocent who, through a series of misadventures is able to naively comment on a variety of satirical targets. In the late 1950s/ early 1960s, two well-known American satirists independently created female protagonists to comment on the "sexual revolution" and other mores of the day: in the pages of Playboy magazine, cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman's Little Annie Fanny often found herself both disrobed and in the midst of a contemporary political or social controversy; meanwhile author and screenwriter Terry Southern's 1958 novel Candy, featuring a similar sexual adventuress, was published in America in 1963, just ahead of his great success in co-writing Dr. Strangelove (1964) with Stanley Kubrick.

In 1967, Terry Southern, then much-in-demand, was recruited to write the screenplay for Barbarella (1968), a film based on a five-year-old French comic strip by cartoonist Jean-Claude Forest. Southern altered the heroine's persona to be a bit more like Candy, while the plot and incidents in the script all came from Forest's first book collection of Barbarella strips (published in 1964 and translated into 12 languages).

In the year 40,000, Barbarella (Jane Fonda) is a solo space aviatrix and adventurer. She is called upon by the President of the Republic of Earth (Claude Dauphin) to locate Durand-Durand (Milo O'Shea), because the renegade scientist has invented a weapon called a Positronic Ray with which he plans to overtake the Universe. Barbarella searches for the city of SoGo, and has many strange encounters along the way, including a run-in with children armed with cannibalistic dolls, bedding down with a fur-covered huntsman (Ugo Tognazzi), and crossing ice fields in a sled powered by stingrays. In a desolate slave encampment called the Labyrinth, Barbarella meets a blind angel called Pygar (John Phillip Law) and his mentor, the kindly Professor Ping (Marcel Marceau). Barbarella restores Pygar's confidence by making love to him, and Pygar carries her aloft to SoGo. There, Barbarella encounters The Great Tyrant (Anita Pallenberg), the Black Queen ruler of SoGo. Barbarella mixes among the people of SoGo, and with the help of the rebel Dildano (David Hemmings) she exposes the plot of Durand-Durand to overthrow The Great Tyrant as his first step in controlling the Universe.

Barbarella was a bone-fide International production, financed by Italian mega-producer Dino De Laurentiis, directed by Roger Vadim of France, and featuring an English-speaking cast from around the globe. This cast was an eclectic, inspired gathering of iconic actors and personalities with strong 1960s cachet: David Hemmings (Blow-Up [1966]); model, actress and jet-setter Anita Pallenberg, who was romantically involved with Brian Jones and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones at different times; world-famous mime Marcel Marceau; and John Phillip Law, a favorite for his roles in eccentric international productions (Danger: Diabolik [1968]) and mainstream oddities (Skidoo [1968]). The lynchpin of Barbarella, however, is Jane Fonda. She is in virtually every scene, and her wide-eyed-yet-knowing performance is the one winning constant in an otherwise uneven production. Yet, when Fonda first received the offer of the role, she tossed it away.

Director Roger Vadim and actress Jane Fonda had been married since 1965; it was the third marriage for the director, whose first wife, Brigitte Bardot, was catapulted to stardom in his film ...And God Created Woman (1956). Vadim and Fonda were living in Malibu, California in 1966 when Jane received a letter from famous Italian producer De Laurentiis to come to Rome and star in a film based on a comic strip. Fonda wadded up the letter and threw it in the wastebasket. As Vadim relates in his book Bardot, Deneuve, Fonda, "The film in question would be based on a French comic strip I knew well. The heroine was named Barbarella. Dino's first choices had been Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren, who had both refused. They had the same reaction as Jane: 'A comic strip character? He can't be serious.'" But Vadim became enthusiastic about the idea himself: "I explained to Jane that cinema was evolving and that the time was approaching when science fiction and galactic-style comedies like Barbarella would be important. She wasn't really convinced, but she realized that I had a passion for the project..." In her autobiography, My Life So Far, Jane Fonda wrote that "...Vadim was adamant that science fiction films would be the wave of the future, that this could be a terrific sci-fi comedy, that I should do it, and that he should direct." De Laurentiis asked Vadim to direct the project, effectively sealing the deal in obtaining Fonda for the role.

Vadim and Fonda moved to Rome and rented a large and ancient house on the outskirts of the city; Fonda later called it "...part castle, part dungeon. There was a tower next to our bedroom that dated from the second century before Christ. At night we regularly heard scuffling and mewing coming from there. One evening during a dinner party in the cavernous living room below, there was a loud noise, some plaster fell from the ceiling, and an owl fell onto Gore Vidal's plate. It turns out that a family of large owls had been making the racket in the tower."

Filming on Barbarella began in August of 1967. Fonda described the shooting method for the famous opening-credit striptease: "The set of the space cabin, instead of sitting like a normal room that you could walk in and out of, was turned upward so that it faced the ceiling of the enormous sound stage. A pane of thick glass was laid across the opening of the set, and the camera was hung from the rafters directly above it. I would have to climb up a ladder and onto the glass, so that from the camera's point of view the space cabin was behind me and I appeared to be suspended in space." Then Fonda slowly removed her spacesuit while a wind machine blew her hair as though it were swirling around her in free fall. "I was terrified that the glass would break [and] terrified of rolling around like that in the altogether... Vadim promised that the letters in the film credits would be placed judiciously to cover what needed to be covered and they were."

Barbarella's final credits list five writers in addition to Southern, Vadim, and Forest, giving an indication of the story difficulties encountered during production. Jane Fonda later said that "...the script hadn't been worked out sufficiently in advance. Often I would have to pretend to be sick so that the film's insurance would cover the cost of a shutdown for a day or two while Vadim, Terry Southern, and others figured out the script problems."

Fonda may not have grasped the satirical edge of the film initially. As Vadim wrote in his autobiography, "She accepted the part because I was enthusiastic about the project, but she disliked the central character for her lack of principle, her shameless exploitation of her sexuality, and her irrelevance to contemporary social and political realities. In fact Barbarella, for all its extravagant fantasy, contains a good deal of ruthless satire on the problems of our times. But humour is not one of Jane's strong points unless it is stated explicitly."

For years Fonda was either disdainful of Barbarella or more often ignored its existence. In recent years, however, she has come around to its appeal and to her performance in particular. In her 2005 autobiography, she wrote, "I never dreamed the film would become a cult classic and, in some circles, the picture Vadim and I would be best known for. It has taken me many decades to arrive at a place where I can understand why this is so and even share the enjoyment of the film's unique charms. ...By today's standards Barbarella seems slow, ...but I think the jerry-built quality of the effects and the offbeat, camp humor give it a unique charm."

Today Barbarella is probably the film that most mainstream moviegoers point to as the prime example of a "psychedelic" fantasy film. The sight of the blind angel Pygar carrying the resourceful Barbarella aloft has become one of the iconic images of 60s cinema. Vadim's opus may have become kitsch, camp, and dated immediately upon release, but no doubt that was mostly by design. The striking visuals (uneven as they are) and Jane Fonda's casually appealing performance carry the day, and give just enough weight to this bit of psychedelic fluff to keep it from floating away.

Producer: Dino De Laurentiis
Director: Roger Vadim
Screenplay: Terry Southern, Roger Vadim, Vittorio Bonicelli, Clement Biddle Wood, Brian Degas, Tudor Gates, Jean-Claude Forest, based on the comic strip by Jean-Claude Forest.
Music: Michel Magne
Song Performances: The Glitterhouse
Cinematography: Claude Renoir
Editing: Victoria Mercanton
Production Design: Mario Garbuglia
Costume Design: Jacques Fonteray, Paco Rabanne
Special Effects: August Lohman, Gerard Cogan
Title Designer: Maurice Binder
Cast: Jane Fonda (Barbarella), John Phillip Law (Pygar), Anita Pallenberg (The Great Tyrant), Milo O'Shea (Durand-Durand), Marcel Marceau (Professor Ping), Claude Dauphin (President of Earth), Veronique Vendell (Captain Moon), David Hemmings (Dildano).

by John M. Miller

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Barbarella (1968)

During the planning stages for Barbarella, Jane Fonda was in Baton Rouge, Louisiana working on Otto Preminger's Hurry Sundown (1967). Her husband Roger Vadim was only able to visit for a week or so, but as Fonda relates in her autobiography My Life So Far, "...during his brief stay, while sitting around the motel pool, he saw the lean, tanned, blue-eyed John Phillip Law emerge from the water like a piece of sculpture and he decided then and there that he was the one to play Barbarella's Pygar, the blind angel who recovers his will to fly after he and Barbarella make love."

Barbarella creator Jean-Claude Forest worked eight months on the film, closely participating in the production design. "I was completely involved," Forest recalled in a 1985 interview. "At that time, I didn't care about my strip, what really interested me was the movie business. The Italian artists were incredible; they could build anything in an extremely short time. I saw all the daily rushes, an incredible amount of film. The choices that were made for the final cut from those images were not the ones I would have liked, but I was not the director. It wasn't my affair."

In her autobiography, Jane Fonda describes one of the biggest challenges facing the special effects department: how to film the scenes in which Pygar the blind angel flies while carrying Barbarella in his arms. Fonda details the setup: "A huge rotating steel pole stuck out horizontally from a cycloramic gray screen. The pole had large hooks and screws at the end, on which two metal corsets were attached. One corset had been made to fit John Phillip Law and one was for me, and they were skintight because our costumes had to fit over the metal and not look bulky. We got all suited up, first the cold metal corsets, then the costumes, and then John's wings were strapped onto his back with wires running from the wings to a remote-control machine. Than a crane hoisted us up and we stood on the platform while John was hooked up to the end of the pole. Then my metal corset was screwed to the front of his, putting me into a position that made it look as though he were carrying me."

So far so good...however, the studio technicians overlooked an important detail. Fonda continues: "After we had been suited up, hoisted up, and screwed up, the moment of truth arrived. The crane, which until then had been supporting us, was moved away, leaving us suspended in air. With the weight of our bodies jamming our hipbones and crotches into the metal corset. It was sheer, utter agony. And with all that, we had to remember our dialogue, look dreamy, and occasionally be funny. The muted sounds of misery I could hear from John (who was bearing the added weight of his wings) told me that his pain was worse than mine, and mine was nearly unbearable. No one had taken our poor crotches into consideration! John was convinced his sex life would be brought to a premature demise."

The flying effect that came out of this painful rigging was due to a new process of front projection (as opposed to the standard rear projection commonly used in the industry), in which a previously-filmed background of clouds and terrain would move behind the stationary actors. The background images were projected, in a split-beam fashion, onto an unusually sensitive motion picture screen; beam-splitting meant that the projected image was at precisely the same angle as the camera, so that the actors would not cast a shadow on the screen. Because of this technology, as Fonda later remembered, " couldn't even see what was being projected on the screen until the film had been developed...Lots of things had to work properly at the same time: The steel pole had to rotate in sync with the moving sky, the remote-control specialist had to make Pygar's wings flap in the same way. And the projection onto the gray screen had to function properly. This all took days and days to rig up, while John and I hung there, our private parts growing progressively numb."

"I will never forget the first day we finally had rushes to look at. Everyone was excited and anxious, since flying without the help of wires had never been done before and so much depended on the believability of the flying scenes. ...The light in the screening room dimmed, the film began to roll and ...Oh my God...we were flying backward! It was too funny not to laugh: The one most obvious thing, what direction the clouds and landscape were moving, had been overlooked. But what was also apparent was that once they got us in sync with the background, it would work."

Fonda also later claimed that her husband took to drinking on the set: "Partway through the filming of Barbarella he started drinking at lunch, and we'd never know what to expect after that. He wasn't falling down, but his words would slur and his decisions about how to shoot scenes often seemed ill-considered."

Vadim wasn't the only one with insecurities to deal with on the set. Incredibly, Fonda was second-guessing the state of her body at the time: "There I was, a young woman who hated her body and suffered from terrible bulimia, playing a scantily clad sometimes naked sexual heroine. Every morning I was sure that Vadim would wake up and realize he had made a terrible mistake 'Oh my God! She's not Bardot!'"

by John M. Miller

My Life So Far by Jane Fonda

Memoirs of the Devil by Roger Vadim

The Fondas: A Hollywood Dynasty by Peter Collier

Bardot, Deneuve, Fonda by Roger Vadim

Psychotronic Magazine Number Twelve Interview with John Phillip Law by Michael Murphy

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Barbarella (1968)

One piece of trivial information about Barbarella is now so widely known that it hardly qualifies as "trivia" at this point: The 1980s British pop band Duran Duran took its name from the oft-mentioned character in the film, Durand-Durand.

Jean-Claude Forest was already a well-known illustrator of science-fiction book covers in France when he was asked in 1962 to create an adult comic strip for V-Magazine. Forest's Barbarella strip was first collected in book form in 1964. It was a hit and was translated into a dozen languages. Forest released several other books collecting the strip, but the 1968 film was based solely on incidents in the first collection.

In an unusual move for a movie based on a comics property, the creator of the Barbarella comic strip, Jean-Claude Forest, was welcomed into the art department of the production, and served as "artistic consultant."

While the film was still in production, a nude photo of Jane Fonda from Barbarella appeared on the cover of Newsweek magazine, on November 13, 1967. The cover blurb: Anything Goes: The Permissive Society.

The flying sequences in Barbarella were shot with a sophisticated front-projection process developed by the Italian effects crew at producer De Laurentiis' Rome studio. A similar process was developed in England a few years earlier for Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), yet that film had not yet been released when Barbarella was in production.

The justly-famous opening title sequence for Barbarella - which contains probably the least-read titles in movie history was designed by Maurice Binder. Binder designed the title sequences for dozens of movies during his career, including The Mouse That Roared (1959), Charade (1963), and Bedazzled (1967). He is most famous, though, for creating the title sequence of almost every James Bond film from Dr. No in 1962 through The Living Daylights in 1987.

Charles Fox, co-writer of the soundtrack songs in Barbarella performed by The Glitterhouse, later co-wrote a number of TV themes in the 1970s for such shows as Happy Days, Wonder Woman, Laverne and Shirley, and most famously, The Love Boat.

Jane Fonda turned down the lead roles in Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Rosemary's Baby (1968) to stay in France with Vadim during the preparations to shoot Barbarella.

Model and actress Anita Pallenberg was recommended to Vadim for the role of the Black Queen in Barbarella by screenwriter Terry Southern. Southern had befriended Pallenberg, who was part of the London "jet-set" and had dated both Brian Jones and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. Southern had been working with the rock group on a screenplay adaptation of the Anthony Burgess book A Clockwork Orange which was to star the Stones as the "droogs" of the novel.

John Phillip Law stayed with Fonda and Vadim in their rented castle outside Rome during the filming of Barbarella and also while Law was shooting Diabolik (1968) for director Mario Bava. Law's girlfriend at the time was American folk singer Joan Baez. Fonda and Baez did not discuss politics and activism during her visits, however Fonda's political awakening was still some months away.

The American movie posters for Barbarella featured artwork of Jane Fonda in costume holding a laser rifle and the following copy: The space age adventuress whose sex-ploits are among the most bizarre ever seen, as well as the tagline SEE BARBARELLA DO HER THING!

LIFE Magazine ran a cover story on Jane Fonda and Barbarella in their March 29, 1968 issue. The cover blurb read "Fonda's Little Girl Jane" alongside a provocative still of Fonda in the black and plastic skintight "Barbarella" spacesuit. More stills from the film were featured in the interior layout with the headline "Up and Away with Jane Fonda."

Barbarella received a major theatrical reissue in 1977, in the wake of the runaway success of Star Wars (1977). For this release, cuts were made to the film to ensure a PG rating. On the posters and promotion, the title was lengthened to Barbarella: Queen of the Galaxy.

In 1999, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. were set to co-produce a remake of Barbarella. Charlie's Angels (2000) co-producer and co-star Drew Barrymore was attached to the project, which never got past the planning stage.

In 2006, Dino De Laurentiis reacquired the movie rights to Barbarella from Julien Forest, son of creator Jean-Claude Forest. De Laurentiis hired writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who wrote the script for the critically acclaimed Casino Royale (2006), which relaunched the James Bond franchise. In a press release, De Laurentiis said, "Barbarella is the ultimate science fiction adventure heroine: smart, strong, funny, and sexy. The future is female, and I'm excited to reintroduce Barbarella to a new generation of moviegoers." Robert Rodriguez is attached to the project as director.

by John M. Miller

My Life So Far by Jane Fonda

Memoirs of the Devil by Roger Vadim

The Fondas: A Hollywood Dynasty by Peter Collier

Bardot, Deneuve, Fonda by Roger Vadim

Psychotronic Magazine Number Twelve Interview with John Phillip Law by Michael Murphy

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Barbarella (1968)

"Comic-strip buffs, science-fiction fans and admirers of the human mammae will get a run for their money in Barbarella, and will probably provide Barbarella with enough money for a run. Other moviegoers need take no notice. The only break-throughs in this husband-and-wife collaboration of Actress Jane Fonda and Director Roger Vadim are made by Miss Fonda's shapely torso through an assortment of body stockings. These are ripped and ravaged by among other things a team of sharp-toothed mechanical dolls, a flight of budgerigars and a machine designed to kill its victims with sexual pleasure. ...[Fonda] meets some topflight actors who are all too lost in space Marcel Marceau as the wizardly Professor Ping, Claude Dauphin as the President of Earth, Ugo Tognazzi as a friendly inhabitant of Planet Lytheon. Her only really amusing encounter is with David Hemmings, an inept leader of the Lytheon underground who has a hankering to try the old earthling technique of sexual intercourse."
TIME, October 21, 1968.

"While other men dream about the perfect society of creativity and equality, Vadim prefers to imagine a world in which everyone goes to bed without strain or conscience and fields are replaced by forests of naked girls, as though all nature had been choreographed by the Folies-Bergere. In this universe of yummy decadence, Jane Fonda is violated and tormented by everything from fornicating pianos that pleasure her to death to snapping dolls with sharp teeth that nibble her legs. On the face of it, all this nonsense is pretty thin stuff for a film. But Vadim carries it all off with such humor, style and detachment that Barbarella becomes something of an intergalactic put-on, all satire and supersonic camp. ...Vadim has always crammed a good deal of fantasy into his films. Now he has taken his inner life as his whole subject and turned out his best work to date."
Paul D. Zimmerman, Newsweek, October 21, 1968.

"Despite a certain amount of production dash and polish and a few silly-funny lines of dialog, Barbarella isn't much of a film. ...The Dino De Laurentiis production is flawed with a cast that is not particularly adept at comedy, a flat script, and direction which can't get this beached whale afloat. Jane Fonda stars in the title role, and comes across as an ice-cold, antiseptic, wide-eyed girl who just can't say no. Fonda's abilities are stretched to the breaking point along with her clothes. In key supporting roles, John Phillip Law is inept as a simp angel while Anita Pallenberg, as the lesbian queen, fares better because of a well defined character. Made at De Laurentiis' Rome studios, film can't really be called overproduced, considering the slapdash special effects, grainy process and poor caliber of the props, though put together on a massive scale so as to appear of spectacle proportions."
Variety, January 1, 1968.

"The dcor and effects in Roger Vadim's erotic comic strip are disappointing, but Jane Fonda has the skittish naughtiness of a teen-age voluptuary. She's the fresh, bouncy American girl triumphing by her innocence over a lewd, sadistic world of the future. David Hemmings shows unexpected comic talent as an absent-minded revolutionary."
Pauline Kael, The New Yorker.

"This piece of interplanetary titillation is based on Jean-Claude Forest's risqu French comic strip which achieved international notoriety in the early sixties. The tone of the film is set by its opening sequence, a free fall striptease by Fonda in the title role, in which director Vadim clearly demonstrates that his aim was to make his (then) wife an international sex star in the mold of his previous wives (Brigitte Bardot and Annette Stroyberg). But, if the resulting adolescent voyeurism has all the passion of a masturbatory fantasy and suggests a deep-seated hostility to women on Vadim's part, Fonda's wide-eyed innocence remains appealing. The film's most revealing failing is its lack of narrative drive, necessitated by Vadim's need to stop the action and present his scantily clad wife for the audience to ogle. ...The script (c-authored by Southern) has a humorous and cutting edge to it that no other Vadim film possesses. This is supported by Renoir's ravishing cinematography and a number of gloriously decadent sets of designer Mario Garbuglia, which are remarkably faithful to Forest's drawings. The result is a confectionary delight that surprisingly survives its cynical centre..."
Phil Hardy, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Movies.

"Barbarella suffers substantially in the transition from print to film. Impersonated with wide-eyed adaptability by a delightful Jane Fonda, Forest's sexually emancipated space woman becomes less independent and erotically acquisitive than the original, though gaining a sense of humour with which her creator never imbued her....Vadim's version of Forest is always an inadequate one, its designs occasionally reminding one of the original but lacking its free fantasy and spring-tight composition. Fonda, whether writhing in a free-fall striptease under the credits, cuddling lasciviously on furs or twitching in agony as mechanical dolls nibble at her thighs is unfailingly delectable, but this is not enough to rescue the film from tedium.."
John Baxter, Science Fiction in the Cinema.

"Roger Vadim's vulgar valentine to his then-wife Jane Fonda is a sort of kitsch Candide, with its "superinnocent" heroine, now in space-age fetish garb, bravely navigating through a decadent future society. Actually, Terry Southern's novel Candy, a comic inversion of the Voltaire, is a more obvious influence. Southern, who adapted Barbarella for the screen from a famous French comic strip, specialized in satires of modern mores and the so-called sexual revolution. Vadim, on the other hand, constructed ponderous, sleazy showcases for his various child brides (including Bardot). Barbarella, for all its gaudy, colorful sets, looks like it was shot in the bowels of the Playboy mansion especially our heroine's space ship, with its fur-lined walls that reek of '60s softcore chic.
Gary Morris,

"Cinematically, an imaginative adaptation of the French cartoon strip by Jean-Claude Forest. Barbarella is a wide-eyed innocent in 40,000 A.D. with bulging bosom and an incompetency for sex. Roger Vadim directed with an eye for psychedelic detail and treats matters neither seriously nor inanely, allowing the viewer to indulge himself. The set design is often incredible and the incidents unforgettable. Silly, absurd, funny, outrageous, utterly visual...the ridiculousness won't stop. John Phillip Law, Milo O'Shea, David Hemmings and Ugo Tognazzi are among the oddly garbed grotesqueries."
John Stanley, The Creature Features Movie Guide

"Vadim kicks off his adaptation of Jean-Claude Forest's 'adult' comic strip by stripping Fonda starkers. From there on it's typically vacuous titillation... But Terry Southern's dialogue occasionally sparkles, and the imaginative designs, as shot by Claude Renoir, look really splendid."
Tom Milne, TimeOut Film Guide.

Compiled by John M. Miller

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Barbarella (1968)

PRESIDENT OF EARTH (Claude Dauphin): Barbarella?
BARBARELLA (Jane Fonda): Mr. President.
PRESIDENT OF EARTH (greeting): Love.
BARBARELLA (greeting): Love. (pause) Just a minute I'll slip something on.
PRESIDENT OF EARTH: Don't trouble yourself.

PRESIDENT OF EARTH: Durand-Durand is the inventor of the Positronic Ray. It's a weapon.
BARBARELLA: Weapon? Why would anybody want to invent a weapon?
PRESIDENT OF EARTH: How should I know?
BARBARELLA: I mean, the universe has been pacified for centuries. Sir.

PRESIDENT OF EARTH: Your mission, then: find Durand-Durand and use all of your incomparable talents to preserve the security of the stars and our own mother planet.

BARBARELLA: Listen you kids, untie me or I'll call your parents!

BARBARELLA: That (Make love)? But nobody's done that for centuries! I mean nobody except the very poor who can't afford the pills and the psycho cardiogram readings.

PYGAR (John Phillip Law): You're soft and warm. We're told earth beings are cold.
BARBARELLA: Not all of us.

PROFESSOR PING (Marcel Marceau): Genius is mysterious.

PROFESSOR PING: The angel is aerodynamically sound it's all a question of morale.

THE GREAT TYRANT (Anita Pallenberg): Hello, pretty-pretty.
BARBARELLA: Hello Thank you very much.
THE GREAT TYRANT: Do you want to come and play with me? For someone like you I charge nothing. You're very pretty, Pretty-Pretty.
BARBARELLA: My name isn't pretty-pretty, it's Barbarella.

BARBARELLA: What's that screaming? A good many dramatic situations begin with screaming...

BARBARELLA: Pygar! Come tell me what that means.
PYGAR (reading words with his fingers): "Chamber of Ultimate Solution."
BARBARELLA: I don't like the sound of that.

THE GREAT TYRANT: So, my pretty-pretty; we meet again.
BARBARELLA: You! The little one-eyed wench!
THE GREAT TYRANT: You have a good memory, Pretty-Pretty. Yes, sometimes I like to go out among my people, be like them, ordinary, 'evil' as you call it. So, I'm your little one-eyed wench. I'm also the Great Tyrant.
BARBARELLA: Well, that's nice.
THE GREAT TYRANT: It amuses me immensely! Now I suppose you are interested in the whereabouts and welfare of a certain party, yes?
BARBARELLA: Well, yes I am. I'm here on orders of the president of the Republic of Earth, I'm here to find Durand-Durand.
THE GREAT TYRANT: I'm not talking about him, I'm speaking of the angel!
THE GREAT TYRANT: Yes, Pygar. He has escaped the labyrinth. Crime. He has destroyed twelve of my black guards. Crime. And he dares to deprive me of a pleasure unique in SoGo, an Earthling. Crime. Crime!

BARBARELLA: De-crucify the angel!
BARBARELLA: De-crucify him or I'll melt your face!

THE GREAT TYRANT: I shall share my delights with you. You shall make love to me.
PYGAR: An angel does not make love, an angel *is* love.
THE GREAT TYRANT: Then you're a dead duck. Guards! To the Mathmos with this winged fruitcake!

BARBARELLA: This is really much too poetic a way to die.

DILDANO (David Hemmings): Are you typical of Earth women?BARBARELLA: I'm about average.

BARBARELLA: I suppose you realize you've saved my life.
DILDANO: A life without cause is a life without effect.

DURAND-DURAND: I'll do things to you that are beyond all known philosophies wait until I get my devices!

DURAND-DURAND: I find horrible the idea that one could do to me that which I do to others.

THE GREAT TYRANT: It seems the Mathmos has created this bubble to protect itself from your innocence.
BARBARELLA: That's nice.

PYGAR: An angel has no memory.

Compiled by John M. Miller

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teaser Barbarella (1968)

A global relaxation of censorious standards related to nudity, profanity, and sexual situations in art led to, by the early 1960s, an increasing frankness about eroticism in literature, drama, fine art - even comic strips. Signifiers of the so-called "sexual revolution" were female comic strip heroines whose sensual escapades were meant to encourage a sloughing off of age-old inhibitions. Leading this emancipated pack were Guido Crepax's Valentina from Italy, Peter O'Donnell and Jim Holdaway's Modesty Blaise from Great Britain, Forrest J. Ackerman and Trina Robbins' Vampirella from the United States, and Jean-Claude Forest's Barbarella from France. A deep space voyager who often found herself seduced by her interstellar acquaintances or bound, gagged, and tortured by them, Barbarella debuted in 1962, the year that American astronaut John Glenn became the first man to orbit the Earth and that NASA launched the communications satellite Telstar. The Barbarella strips were collected into a single volume in 1964, which acquired the reputation (however inaccurate) of being the first adult comic book. Film rights to the series were acquired by maverick Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis, who assigned the adaptation to French filmmaker Roger Vadim. De Laurentiis envisioned Sophia Loren in the title role but when Loren turned him down (then in her mid-thirties, the Italian actress was admittedly too old to play a zero gravity naf), he offered the part to Vadim's ex-wife, Brigitte Bardot. When Bardot demurred and Virna Lisi terminated her United Artists contract rather than accept the part, Vadim turned to the next actress on his short list: his then-current wife, Jane Fonda.

Vadim had married Fonda in 1965, on the rebound from a love affair with Catherine Deneuve. Less a marriage of equals than a Svengali-Trilby partnership (Vadim discouraged his new bride from taking roles in Bonnie & Clyde [1967] and Rosemary's Baby [1968]), the union found Mrs. Vadim eager to please her older and presumably wiser husband, even to the extent of paying off his gambling debts and assuming the cost of refurbishing his country farmhouse. In her 2006 memoir, My Life So Far, Fonda recalled that "the tensions and insecurities that haunted me during the making of that film almost did me in. There I was, a young woman who hated her body and suffered from terrible bulimia, playing a scantily clad - sometimes naked - sexual heroine. Every morning I was sure that Vadim would wake up and realize he had made a terrible mistake - 'Oh my god! She's not Bardot!' At the same time, unwilling to let anyone know my real feelings and wanting, Girl Scoutishly, to do my best, I would pop a Dexadrine and plow onward." The international press carried the news item of how Fonda fell ill during production, necessitating a halt in shooting, but the true story was that Vadim had no finished script, despite input from a dozen screenwriters (among them Terry Southern and Roger Corman collaborator Charles B. Griffith). When progress stalled for lack of authorial foresight, Fonda played sick so Vadim's insurers would cover the cost of the shut-down.

Despite being a compromised production, Barbarella remains forty-odd years on an amusing, eye-catching Pop Art diversion. Clad in bespoke Paco Rabanne costumes, Fonda is an apt embodiment of the free-spirited Barbarella and a sympathetic heroine even given the obvious misogyny underpinning the characterization. The actress is also well-served by an eclectic international supporting cast that includes David Hemmings, Milo O'Shea, Ugo Tognazzi, Claude Dauphin (in a role once considered for Jane Fonda's father, Henry Fonda), Anita Pallenberg (dubbed by Joan Greenwood), and Marcel Marceau (speaking on film for the first time as the beneficent Professor Ping, a mash-up of Albert Einstein and Harpo Marx). Fonda's leading man was American actor John Phillip Law, who had played a small role opposite her in Otto Preminger's Southern melodrama Hurry Sundown (1967); visiting Fonda at the Baton Rouge location during preproduction for Barbarella, Roger Vadim glimpsed the 6'5," blue-eyed Law climbing out of a hotel swimming pool and knew he had found the actor to play the blind angel Pygar. Shot decades before the advent of CGI, Barbarella's scenes of Pygar flying were accomplished practically, via the use of body harnesses that suspended the actors in front of a cyclorama for hours at a time. Fonda suffered additional abuse during a setpiece in which Barbarella is trapped inside a cage filled with ravenous birds, who scratched, pecked, and defecated on their already insecure leading lady.

Barbarella's disappointing box office mooted a proposed sequel, which producer Robert Evans had thought to title Barbarella Goes Down. Dino De Laurentiis considered resurrecting the character a decade later, and hired Terry Southern to bang out a treatment, but development was stillborn. Prior to his death in 2000, Roger Vadim announced a remake to star, alternatively, Sherilyn Fenn and Drew Barrymore, while more recently Robert Rodriguez attempted to cast Rose McGowan in the title role of a reboot until development funds from Universal Pictures were withdrawn. Edited for nudity to appeal to general audiences, the film was re-released in 1977 as Barbarella, Queen of the Galaxy to profit from the success of Star Wars. Relegated to the status of career punchline in the wake of Fonda's Academy Award wins for Klute (1971) and Coming Home (1978), Barbarella nonetheless exerted a certain influence. The pop group Duran Duran took its name (or thought it did) from the film's chief villain, Durand-Durand, and Barbarella's shadow can be felt as well in the costuming for the ITV series UFO and such feature films as Galaxina (1980), The Fifth Element (1997) and CQ (2001) - which featured John Phillip Law in a small role. In January 2011, Jane Fonda told The Los Angeles Times that she was, at age 73, game to return to the character of Barbarella. "Not a remake, a sequel. Look, I get shtupped by a blind angel, okay? Let's take it from there!"

By Richard Harland Smith


Jane Fonda: My Life So Far by Jane Fonda (Random House, 2006)
Space Oddities: Women and Outer Space in Popular Films and Culture by Marie Lathers (A&C Black, 2012)
"Jane Fonda: I Want to Star in a Barbarella Sequel," by Deborah Vankin and Geoff Boucher,

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