I write a lot of stuff on this blog about serious films. Films in foreign languages with subtitles, films dealing with aspects of sexuality, and films that are sometimes harrowing to watch. But believe it or not, I have also seen a lot of comedy films over the years, as well as films that might be considered satirical, slapstick, or just plain silly.
In 1968, I was 16 years old. I used to go to the cinema all the time, mostly to watch films I had read about, films made by directors I had started to admire, or starring actors I had respect and admiration for. But very often, I was not averse to just pitching up and going in to see whatever was on that night. And one of those nights, I saw this.
You could call it a science fiction film. It is set in the future, has spaceships and distant planets, and some unusual creatures too. But it is unlike any science fiction film I had seen before, or for that matter, since. Barbarella (Jane Fonda) is a space traveller, tasked with searching for the missing scientist, Durand Durand. (Not the pop group, they stole his name, and dropped the D) He has developed a ray weapon that might be used against Earth, so must be found.
Barbarella immediately gets into trouble. After crashing on a strange planet, she is captured by creepy small children, who set tiny robots dolls on her. She is saved by the patrolling child catcher, who takes her onto his ice-craft, requesting sex as payment. By this time, sex on Earth has developed into taking pills which simulate orgasm, so Barbarella’s first real sexual encounter gives her the taste for more. The man tells her that Durand is on Sogo, so she travels on to find him. On the way, she encounters a blind angel, (John Philip Law) who has lost his desire to fly, and a band of rebels led by a man named Dildano. (David Hemmings). She restores the angel’s flying ability by having sex with him, but is soon captured by the wicked Queen of Sogo. (Anita Pallenberg)
Barbarella discovers that Sogo is built on a sea of living energy, called The Matmos. Durand has seemingly gone mad, and with the power of The Matmos, he has developed a machine called the Orgasmatron, designed to kill anyone placed inside, using ultimate sexual pleasure. He aims to finish off Barbarella, and puts her into the machine. But he isn’t reckoning with her sexual powers, and she proves to be too much, even for the mighty Orgasmatron.
I know, it sounds silly, and it is. But it is a feast for the eyes, lovingly made, and often very amusing too. Obviously a satire on space films like Flash Gordon, it adds the sexual element, which is never really salacious or unpleasant. It laughs at itself, and the accomplished cast know exactly what they are doing too. Above all, Fonda shines. She looks amazing, (and has never looked better before or since) and manages to play it straight, in many otherwise ludicrous situations. Great support from Milo O’Shea as Durand Durand, and the lurid but imaginative sets all adds up to a real fun film that leaves you smiling.
See, I do ‘fun’ too. 🙂