Friday, October 18, 2013

A Sex Romp in Space

"A good many dramatic situations begin with screaming."

Barbarella (Jane Fonda)

"Barbarella" is an example of a movie that isn't particularly well received when it is at the theaters, but it gradually gains acceptance after it completes its theatrical rounds and emerges as a cult favorite.

Modern movie fans may only know Jane Fonda as the 75–year–old woman she is today. But 45 years ago, "Hanoi Jane," as she was known for her political activities, was young and beautiful — and her director/husband, Roger Vadim, cast her as the lead in his space–age, pseudo–science fiction (and relatively soft porn) movie.

Almost everything in "Barbarella" — which premiered on this day in 1968 — was said or done with one's tongue pressed tightly against one's cheek.

And, to be honest, it was an amusing little flick. I doubt that I would want or need to see it a second time — and, since I first saw it many years ago, I haven't wanted or needed to see it again. But I think it is worth seeing once — if only to catch a glimpse of what people in 1968 thought was funny (or, perhaps, what people in those days thought other people thought was funny).

That wasn't the only thing viewers could glimpse. "Barbarella" was also an excuse to see Fonda in various stages of undress floating in weightless environments.

There was actually a plot — kinda sorta. It was a flimsy one, really more of an intergalactic "Wizard of Oz" with Fonda playing a kind of 41st–century psychedelic version of Dorothy.

But instead of obsessing about yellow brick roads, ruby slippers and the Emerald City, Barbarella obsessed about sex.

Now, young people do tend to obsess about sex. But "Barbarella" threw in a new — and, in its way, prophetic — wrinkle. Barbarella was accustomed to a kind of virtual sex. Actual physical sex with another person was an experience she had never had.

Discerning viewers observed that an absence of physical sex would make it problematic to conceive — except that this was, of course, the 41st century. I don't think the issue of conception was ever addressed, but I suppose it could be assumed that science had found other ways to achieve that.
Barbarella: Make love? But no one's done that for hundreds of centuries!

I don't know if it was intended to be as farcical as it turned out to be. As I say, the plot was a bit contrived. Well, more than a bit. See, Barbarella was sent to find a missing scientist named Durand Durand. It was while she was on this mission that Barbarella discovered physical sex.

That was about it. The rest was filler.

The movie may be more noteworthy for inspiring the name of a popular 1980s band (after slightly changing the spelling of the scientist's name).

I'm pretty sure Vadim and the film's backers didn't expect it to tank at the box office the way it did — and it would have taken remarkable psychic abilities to foresee how "Barbarella" would become a cult classic.

Yet that is precisely what happened.

Who knew?