Jane in Space
In films, sex and special effects, though not mutually exclusive, rarely hang together. Yet it’s that unlikely pairing that makes Barbarella (1968) such an enduring cult piece.
It’s the year 40,000 and space-traveler Barbarella (Jane Fonda), a representative of the United Earth government, is sent to find scientist Durand Durand, who has a weapon that could destroy humanity: if the film does have a narrative structure, that’s pretty well it.
The film was directed by Roger Vadim, Fonda’s then-husband, and his preoccupation is positioning Fonda in erotic situations and… positions. At the time, Roger said “I am not going to intellectualize Barbarella. Although there is going to be a bit of satire about our morals and our ethics, the picture is more of a spectacle than a cerebral exercise for a few way-out intellectuals.” Fine. Beyond that, it all up to cinematographer Claude Renoir and set designer Mario Garbuglia.
(By the way, Vadim said that Fonda “didn’t enjoy shooting Barbarella…[she] disliked the central character for her lack of principle, her shameless exploitation of her sexuality and her irrelevance to contemporary social and political realities.” Hello Klute.
Can a film be intentionally camp? No, it can’t. It really can’t. There are too many examples refuting ‘intentional’. Rather, camp is a wayward distillation of mislaid intent, ambition, artistic vision, ineptitude, sincerity, and laziness. Besides, an audience declares a film to be camp. It is the great, unshakeable arbiter of taste… or lack of. In the case of Barbarella, over fifty years of viewers have declared the film to be enduring camp—and that’s an indelible endorsement.
Based on a comic strip by Jean-Claude Forest, the film retains the slap/dash momentum of a comic strip, sometimes breathless, often plodding, never truly dull.
The attraction of the film? Sometimes creativity is its own reward.
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