BARBARELLA was, as I recall, the only film my mum refused to let me watch as a kid. I mean, there were lots of films which were on too late, like the second half of the monster movie double bills, which meant that I saw DRACULA at age ten but didn’t see FRANKENSTEIN until years later. But BARBARELLA was banned purely on grounds of content, or imagined content, since I don’t think anybody in my family had seen it.
A while later, the prospect of my watching DRACULA AD 1972 provoked an earnest discussion, with my Dad agreeing to sit up and watch the film with me and my brother to make sure there was nothing too unsuitable. There wasn’t — a wrist-slitting black mass, lots of vampirism, a stake through the heart — but no nipples. So that’s OK.
It seems kind of foolish of Roger Vadim to begin the movie with a striptease which is more fleetingly revealing than anything else in the film, starting it on an erotic high that it can’t quite live up to. Still, it’s an iconic, much-swiped moment, and it’s eventually followed by THIS:
The Excessive Machine, which should really have been called the Orgasmatron, only nobody thought of it. (Woody Allen did, later, in SLEEPER.) Here is my own Orgasmatron:
It’s for scalp massage, which is either a disappointment or a relief depending on how weird you are.
Jane Fonda’s erotic ordeal is a perversly innocent bit of sadism in a film which flirts with the sick (Barb getting nibbled by clockwork dolls in front of an audience of feral children sounds worse than it plays) but doesn’t seem to cross any lines of taste, somehow. Apart from casting Marcel Marceau in a role that requires him to do nothing but talk. That really shows up Vadim’s particular brand of anti-talent.
What holds the fragmented, inept shambles together is the design and casting — Vadim may have not known what to do with the talents on display, but he attracted enough of them so that some entertainment almost inevitably results. And Fonda’s Alice-in-Wonderland line readings — “A lot of dramatic situations begin with screaming!” — are crucial to preserving the air of innocence that stops the thing getting mired in pervy Euro-misogyny. What Robert “will this do?” Rodriguez’s proposed version would be like is anybody’s guess, although I predict lacklustre CGI banality might form approximately 99.9% of the experience, but it seems at least conceivable that Rose McGowan could contribute some Fonda-esque charm. She’s got something, that girl.
Vadim story: Arianne Ulmer-Cipes, daughter of the great Edgar Ulmer, worked as a voice artist in Europe: she was the Italian voice of Elke Sommer, which sounds like a splendid job to have. She once auditioned for Vadim, and ofound him sat upon a magnificent THRONE, weaing a short bathrobe, and splaying, physically. “I just ignored it. I knew it was some kind of test — he wanted to see if I’d be shocked. I mean, he wasn’t fiddling with himself or anything.”