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« To Sir Caine, With Love | Main | Visual Index ~ Barbarella Psychadella »

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: "Barbarella"

Barbarella comes from the 41st century so theoretically she knows a thing or to. Perhaps she can tell me from the future how to choose a best shot from her infamous movie? Though I’d seen at least some of Barbarella before – I’ve never forgotten the hilarious space-burlesque title sequence -- now I've seen all of Barbarella. In both senses. 

There's certainly a lot to look at but I’ve rarely been more stumped with this series... more

How to claim Best Shot for anything therein? Roger Vadim’s sci-fi softcore fantasy is so committed to its bad taste scifi chintz that I was tempted to judge it entirely based on its production design. I had forgotten all about shag carpeting -- a sense memory from a barefoot 70s childhood -- but Barbarella has preserved it for all time and not just on floors where it once reigned. I also loved every glimpse of the Mathmos, the angry lava lamp that is this insane movie's idea of a Big Bad. But never do the Mathmos and the Shag share the frame so I had to forfeit that angle.

Often I make my Best Shot visual choice around something that informs the theme or tells the story all by itself. But plot and meaning are not among Barbarella’s selling points unless you're quite high. (If you were hallucinating even before the movie's trip, please tell me what you saw on yours once the movie started).

Barbarella in (Excessive) Ecstacy

In the end though, I think Barbarella is most successful when viewed through the prism of Roger Vadim bragging about the extraordinary beauty and sexuality of his then wife Jane Fonda circa 1968 (not that her beauty hasn't been well-preserved in the 45 years since. Well done, Jane) so the shot has to be about that.

The Boyfriend remarked as we were watching that "Jane Fonda was the Nicole Kidman of her day!" and he said that even before her psychic cardiogram sex scene that might bring The Paperboy to mind and he had a point. Aside from the startling visual similarities, Fonda was, as Kidman is now, a reckless auteurist who was willing to give her all to anyone with a vision no matter how outre and no matter what she'd have to get up to in the movie to fulfill it. And she was just as versatile. I love that you can draw a line between the closeups of her face in ecstacy as she orgasms in both Barbarella (1968) and Coming Home (1978). The movies and scenes and characters are hugely different but she's perfect for both of them. 

Oh my poor spaceship!"
-one of the many funny beats in Fonda's performance

Almost all of the best moments in the movie spin on Fonda's lusty beauty which is, nevertheless, made entirely accessible by her comic gift. My favorite scene in Barbarella -- and I could write a 1000 words about this scene alone but I'd better not -- is the "old fashioned" sex scene near the beginning. Fonda's delivery of absurd futuristic jargon and her character's never-questioned regurgitation of her world's sexual mores is A+ comedy and it's beautifully paired with the exaggerated changing language of her body pre and post coital.

In scenes like that one Barbarella feels both innocent and kinky at once so I needed the image that best expressed this duality, something both angelic and dirty. When Pygar the angel meets Barbarella, who will share his nest and restore his will to fly, he is caught off guard. "I was told earthlings were cold." He was told wrong. This particularly earthling is unmistakably hot.  

best shot

11 more earthlings & angels 
You can see a link roundup of the selected best shots in visual narrative order here, or click over to these fine articles for more... 

Cinema Enthusiast goes to the birds • Serious Film sees Jane Fonda's IQ vibes • Encore Entertainment finds Barbara theoretically impossible • Antagony & the Excessive Machine • Allison Tooey the movie in a nutshell • Stranger Than Most Barbarella... On Ice • We Recycle Movies outlandish, kinky, silly and sadistic • Film Actually Barbarella and the Old Fashioned Ways  • Amiresque an Opaque Bombshell • The Film's The Thing 'what kind of girl is she?' • Film Geek marvels at strong women


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Reader Comments (11)

I, too, got Nicole Kidman vibes off of Fonda, especially when her hair curled during the hand sex. She could have been Kidman's stunt double or sister at that point.

Good choice for best shot! "Innocent yet dirty" also sums the film up pretty well.

March 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAllison Tooey

The Nicole Kidman comparison makes a lot of sense!

Nat, what are we watching next week??

March 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSquasher88

Old stuff is the best:-) I've got to see this

March 14, 2013 | Unregistered Commentersona

I only saw this film in completion once and that was during my 'party' days, needless to say the visuals in it are absolutely bonkers.

March 14, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterrami (ramification)

I didn't have time to write up a whole post, but suffice it to say that Barbarella is the type of film that makes you wonder what exactly everyone was on in the 60s, just how good it was, and whether anything made under its influence also needs to be seen under its influence. Not that Barbarella doesn't make sense, but I got the distinct feeling that it would be way more fun if I were high. If it weren't for Jane Fonda's delightful (if still typically slightly mannered) performance, I don't know that anyone would care about this film today. I don't even know that it legitimately qualifies as camp (which is a whole other post that I wish I had time to get into but don't), which seems to be how it's come to its cult status. I have no doubt that Barbarella is enjoyable under the right circumstances, but not being high or having lived through the 60s (or 70s, for that matter) to have that sense memory certainly don't help.

My best shot would be literally any of Jane Fonda's reaction shots. She's the secret ingredient that makes this odd, deflated little souffle rise.

March 14, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

If you are stumped for next week's movie may I suggest that the series tackle a Roger Deakins movie.

March 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

The Nicole Kidman comparison is pretty great, the minute I saw those screencaps that's who I thought of.

I remember seeing pieces of this film on tv when I was younger, before I could really appreciate camp, and I didn't know what to make of it. I think it's time I revisit it.

March 14, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterthefilmjunkie

so great is my love for this picture that i named my dog pygar.

March 14, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteralguien

There would be no Rocky Horror Picture Show without Barbarella.

March 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

While we're FYC:ing movies for future Hit Me's, may I also suggest Michael Mann's Manhunter, which really is a gold mine of bold/striking/enigmatic images.

March 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMikadzuki

I don't remember much about this movie, although I think at one point they try to sex her do death (?), but I'm surprised no one commented that Duran Duran got their name from this movie. BTW, Fonda's memoirs are fascinating to read.

March 15, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

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