Pin-up of the Day: Barbarella Psychedella

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.”


27 Responses to “Pin-up of the Day: Barbarella Psychedella”

  1. Why can’t I be that doggie?

  2. Iggy Pop has a song for you!

  3. and the wonderful weirdness of Joan “pretty pretty” Greenwood dubbing Anita Pallenberg although I always imagined Fenella Fielding when hearing her speak. And of course Duran Duran. Here’s a topic; band names derived from films. Clockwork Orange would seem to have the most – Heaven 17, Moloko, Devotchka – or have we done this already?

  4. Don’t forget Campag Velocet.

  5. David, you have no idea. I saw Iggy back in 1973, right after the Raw Power came out. Check out Iggy biographer Paul Trynka’s blog for the full story (entitled Butt-men on the Beach, kind of a goofy title, but it wasn’t my idea). I also spoke to him once at a bar here in Detroit back in 1979 (or maybe it was ’80). He’s one of my all-time heroes, like James Brown he’s been one of the hardest-working men in show business. He’s looking a bit haggard these days, but then again who isn’t. This is a pretty demanding world we live in these days. By the way, speaking of Pallenberg, I saw her in an extra on the Performance DVD, hasn’t aged well, but then again neither has Keith. But then Keith’s not a girl.

  6. It’s kind of mysterious why you WOULD dub Pallenberg, who has a great voice, but it works.

    I always thought it WAS Fenella Fielding! Thanks for clearing that one up, Mike.

    Why is there no band called Dildano? Or Pygar, come to that? Surely there must be one called Matmos?

    I wish Iggy Pop did more acting, he’s a fascinating screen presence. He’s ALWAYS looked haggard, even with his imposibly toned body. It’s a miracle several times over he’s even alive if that biography is accurate!

  7. All in the genes David.

  8. I had forgotten Ugo Tognazzi’s character in Barbarella is called Mark Hand — surely another band name waiting to happen.

    And there must be a death metal band called Horrorshow, surely?

  9. His father taught high school at Fordson High in Dearborn, MI. The kids called him Iggy’s Pop. I know someone who studied under Mr. Osterberg, smart like his boy, though not quite so anarchic.

  10. Not one but TWO of the greatest lines in the history of the cinema:

    “Decrucify the angel or I’ll melt your face!”


    “Your innocence makes the Mathmos vomit!”

    Barbarella is the real Jane — back when she had a real sense of humor about herself.
    I met Vadim in his later years when he was living out here and L.A. and going with scriptwriter I used to know. She was as beautiful as all his other women, and he — as Pauine Kael so rightly noted was — “the perfect Henry James villain.” Delightful man. Suave as the day is long.
    A close second to Warren Beatty in the Ultimate Heterosexuality sweepstakes.

  11. Terry Southern’s voice can occasionally be heard through the cacophony of writers on this film.
    Vadim is very effective in his acting role in Into the Night: a perfect John Landis villain too.

  12. A memory from my chaotic days as an undergraduate at U.C. Santa Cruz (cf. my encounter with Tim Hunter as lecturer):

    A raggle-taggle screening of “Barbarella,” where the audience was none too interested. John Philip Law has Anita Pallenberg on one arm and Jane Fonda on the other … but he doesn’t *do* anything. He just stands there.

    Finally a voice yells out of the audience: “Get it UP, Pygar!”

  13. Wasn’t somebody saying something, a while back, about male reoticism in Euro westerns? Perhaps our angel in “Barbarella” can be classified as an “angel of the prairies” in one Euro western I’ve been known to enjoy, “Death Rides A Horse” (original title: “Da uomo a uomo”).

    The protagonists are Law and Lee Van Cleef, and their meeting (start at “7:04”) is staged like Montgomery Clift meeting Elizabeth Taylor in “Place In The Sun.”

    IMDb still has the somewhat unsubtle “user comment” that I posted about the film. It’s drift can be guessed from the title: “Shut Up, Boy, And Put On The Maria Callas!” (I aplogize. I thought it was funny at the time.)

  14. That’s “eroticism,” of course.

  15. One point that you missed.

    The DP of ”Barbarella” is…Claude Renoir, DP of his Uncle Jean’s ”The River”, ”French CanCan” and cameraman on his 30’s films(the guy nearly got decapitated filming the opening of ”La Bete Humaine” when the train went into a tunnel).

  16. Had he lost his head for real, he might’ve become the perfect Vadim collaborator!

  17. Arianne Ulmer was at high school with John Philip Law. All the girls wanted to go out with him, but he didn’t seem to be interested… Eventually she pressed the issue and he explained the facts of life to her. She’d never heard of homosexuality so she had no prejudices. I’ve since wondered if the ladies’ man image he presents in interviews was genuine, the result of a lifestyle change, or a cover story.

  18. I hate to disillusion you but John Philip Law was straight. During the shooting of Skidoo my boyfriend Bill was living in John Philip Law’s basement with his gardener/houseman (Hey, it was the 60’s) Law was going ith Barbara Parkins back then. Bill used to see them walking around in the garden: “They were the most beautiful creatures who ever lived!”

    As you can imagine the Skidoo shoot was quite something.

  19. Barbara Parkins was in TV’s Payton Place, am I right? She was a very striking brunette, I remember seeing her in Playboy magazine as an adolescent back in the late Sixties, nude or semi-nude, can’t recall exactly. Yes, I could see her and Law emitting a blinding radiance together, at least visually.

  20. She’s most famous for Valley of the Dolls which she plays the high fashion model who triumphs while the others are undone by bad men, worse drugs and breast cancer.

    I love her opening a safe with her feet in Huston’s The Kremlin Letter

  21. I wonder what caused Arianne’s confusion? Or maybe it’s me that got the story wrong.

    Have just acquired The Kremlin Letter so am looking forward to a spot of Parkins.

  22. McGowan is nice, but she will NEVER be at pre-Hanoi Jane’s level.

  23. One forgets just how cute Fonda was. What MacGowan might have brought to the role is a comparable sense of innocence, she has a nice open quality.

  24. I have no evidence to back this up but I suspect that the opening sequence of Barberella was partially inspired by a sequence in the 1966 Italian film 2+5: Missione Hydra in which the rather yummy heroine is dropped (in slow motion) onto a trampoline and does some weightless thigh revealing writhing.

  25. I tried to post a link but it didn’t work.



  26. That looks convincing! If the movie’s worth seeing, I’ll try and take a look at it myself. I certainly don’t have a lot of faith in Vadim’s creativity…

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