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Barbarella Psychedella!

Updated on September 20, 2016

Barbarella was directed by Roger Vadim and premiered on October 18th, 1968. Starring Jane Fonda, John Phillip Law, Anita Pallenberg, Milo O'Shea and Marcel Marceau. Screenplay by Roger Vadim & Terry Southern. Music by Charles Fox.

President: Your mission Barbarella: find Durand-Durand.

Barbarella is a psychedelic fantasia of pop-art sensibilities and adult fairy tales, interwoven with all the genre cliches of space opera, and with a chief protagonist who is a sex kitten to die for. If that all sounds confusing - it is.

Based on a comic strip from the 1960s, which was originally intended as an antidote to the rather brash adventures of Flash Gordon, Barbarella is a blend of genres, from soft porn to high space adventure.

The plot of the movie, such as it is, follows the eponymous heroine (Fonda) of the fortieth century as she journeys to Tau Ceti in search of the mad scientist Durand-Durand (Milo O'Shea) and his deadly 'positronic ray'. Much of what takes place is an exercise in displaying the scantily clad Fonda.

The Great Tyrant: Guards! To the Mathmos with this winged fruitcake.

It took seven people to construct the screenplay for the film, and the result is a cornucopia of different ideas and notions. We see a community of feral children with malicious dolls, we see the blind angel Pygar (John Phillip Law), we see bizarre sex in a variety of different positions and techniques, and we see gadgets such as lurid spacecraft, deadly ray guns and a rather exciting 'excessive pleasure machine'. Indeed, Barbarella's quest is as much about her search for the ultimate orgasm as it is about Durand-Durand.

Joan Greenwood dubbed Anita Pallenberg (The Great Tyrant)..

Durand-Durand was the inspiration for the name of the 80's pop group Duran Duran.

The zero-gravity striptease during the opening credits was achieved by having Jane Fonda lying on a sheet of plexi-glass with a painting of the interior of the spaceship underneath the glass, The camera filmed her from above giving the impression she was floating.

Barbarella is a visual feast, and Fonda is suitably camp and sensuous in the lead role. The film was directed by Roger Vadim who was Fonda’s husband at the time. The supporting cast do what they have to, but this is really about making Fonda into a star. Released the same year as Kubrick's 2001 A Space Odyssey the special effects in Barbarella are laughable in comparison but are a good part of it's camp appeal.

Barbarella is surreal and bizarre, and very much a product of its time. Its vision of a decadent future, full of free love and high adventure stems directly from the optimism of the decade in which it was written and filmed. Barbarella should perhaps be more properly considered a fantasy, but its enduring appeal and sheer unconventionality make it worthy of repeated viewing.

The film was released on Blu-ray in 2012.

The Critics Wrote -

“Comic-strip buffs, science-fiction fans and admirers of the human mammae will get a run for their money.” (Time)

"Jane Fonda, that well-known heavenly body, has furthered the cause of science by performing the first striptease in Space...

The fact that the whole film is so outrageous that you find yourself chortling, cannot save it from turning out as a twisted tale which makes the activities of the Marquis de Sade look like good clean fun." (John Smith, Sunday Mirror)

"A special kind of mess... All the gadgetry of science-fiction ... is turned into all kinds of jokes, which are not jokes, but hard-breathing sadistic thrashings, mainly at the expense of Barbarella, and of women." (Renata Adler, New York Times)

"Jane Fonda 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." (Variety)


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