Barbarella (1968): Roger Vadim’s Campy Sci-Fi Fantasy Starring Wife Jane Fonda

Roger Vadim’s erotic sci-fi fantasy, Barbarella, stars his then wife, actress Jane Fonda.

At the time, the film was dismissed as silly, trivial, and lurid, but over the years it has become for many viewers an item of high-camp, a minor cult movie.

Jean-Claude Forest, who created the character Barbarella in 1962 for V-Magazine, served as visual advisor on the adaptation.

European comic strips are different from their American counterparts in combining strong sci-fi elements with hardcore (or softcore) sex.

The story is simple: A voluptuous outer space agent travels to another galaxy in search of a missing inventor in this science fiction send-up.

Fonda plays the titular role, an interstellar representative of the united Earth government in the 41st century on a mission to locate scientist Durand Durand, whose positronic ray threatens the end of civilization–if not stopped.

Dressed in some sexy outfits and cruising around in a psychedelic spaceship, Barbarella travels to the Tau Seti system and crash-lands. She then spends the rest of the film discovering the joys of interstellar sex with a keeper of feral children (Ugo Tognazzi), a blind beatific angel (John Phillip Law), and an inept revolutionary named Dildano (David Hemmings).

She finds her way to Durand Durand by moving from one exotic locale to another. Along the way, she meets the kindly Professor Ping (Marcel Marceau), a Eurotrash dominatrix named the Great Tyrant (Anita Pallenberg), and the Concierge (Milo O’Shea), a lackey of the Great Tyrant who tries to destroy Barbarella with his organ of love.

One of the few critics who perceived Barbarella for what it meant to be was Andrew Sarris, who wrote in the Village Voice: “From her opening space-suit striptease through every single and double entendre in the script and gadgetry, our Jane manages to exude the kind of healthy girlscoutish non-campish sexuality that should be as acceptable to our children as the morbidly repressed Peter Pansy entertainment now to be imposed on them via classification.”

Other critics complained about the striptease “in a state of weightlessness,” and suggested to subtitle the “Barabarella” as “2002: A Space Idiocy,” since the movie came out the same year that saw the release of Kubrick’s masterpiece, “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Still others had to acknowledge that Fonda’s disrobing was “technically ingenious and quite lovely.”

To her credit, Fonda played her part straight, preserving the joke by taking things seriously though not earnestly.”

Legacy

Looking back, “Barbarella” might have been an early sampler of Eurotrash, a concept that became popular in the 1980s and 1980s, due to the film’s intentionally trashy nature.

The film’s missing scientist character inspired the band name of 1980s pop stars Duran Duran, who, of course, altered the spelling.

Two decades later, “Barbarella” inspired electronic act Matmos, which was named after the aqueous personification of evil unleashed by the Concierge at the movie’s climax.

 

Running time: 98 minutes.

Directed by Roger Vadim

Written by Vittorio Bonicelli, Claude Brule, Tudor gates, terry Southern, and Roger Vadim

Released: October 10, 1968

DVD: Jun 22, 1999