Barbarella (1968)

Country: France / Italy
Director: Roger Vadim
Starring: Jane Fonda, John Phillip Law, Anita Pallenberg, Milo O’Shea, Marcel Marceau, Claude Dauphin, David Hemmings, Ugo Tognazzi
Music: Michel Magne and James Campbell
Based on the bestseller ‘Barabarella’ by Jean Claude Forest, published in ‘Le Terrain Vague’

Okay Barbarella isn’t much of a Costumed Adventurer, but she does wear a few costumes (er,…sometimes). Despite its notoriety the film was a critical and box office failure upon its original release. What first drew me to Barbarella was the blurb on the back of the video, which stated that ‘Barbarella was a female James Bond’. Well that’s enough to drag me in. When I first saw the film, as a young teenager I just didn’t get it. It seemed slow and sluggish, and it’s only saving grace as far as I was concerned was that visually it looked like Dino De Laurentiis’ Flash Gordon. You’ve got to realise I was around ten years old when Star Wars (I refuse to call it A New Hope – it was Star Wars when I saw it – and to me that’s what it will always be) was released in Australia. When that marketing juggernaut hit town, all the other science fiction films that had come before it where dismissed as lame and cheesy. Many years later I decided to give Barbarella another shot but I didn’t hold too much hope for the film. Thankfully I was wrong – very wrong – Barbarella is mind blowingly fantastic. It is a fat slice of swinging sixties, sexy, sci-fi adventure.

But before we look at the film, maybe it’s worth recounting a bit of Barabrella’s history. From the official site of Jean-Claude Forest and Barbarella.

‘Jean-Claude Forest created the character of Barbarella for V-Magazine in 1962, at the request of its editor, Georges H. Gallet, who was already familiar with Forest’s work as France’s premier science fiction cover artist and had commissioned an illustrated version of Catherine L. Moore’s classic story Shambleau in 1955. Barbarella was published in book for by Eric Losfeld’s publishing company Le Terrain Vague in 1964, became an immediate runaway bestseller and was soon translated in a dozen countries, including by Grove Press in the United States. Not long after, it was adapted into a 1968 motion picture, produced by Dino de Laurentiis, directed by Roger Vadim, and starring Jane Fonda, for which Forest acted as design consultant.’

Now the film – Legendary film director and horndog, Roger Vadim is famous to two of cinemas most famous erotic moments – the first is from And God Created Woman, and features his then wife, Bridget Bardot dancing barefoot on a table. The other is the title sequence in Barbarella, where Vadim’s third wife, Jane Fonda, while floating in zero gravity, slowly removes all the pieces of her space suit. During the strip tease, the individual letters displaying the cast and crew names in the titles, flitter around the screen covering Barbarella’s naughty bits. Younger readers will recall this technique being borrowed for the title sequence in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.

Barbarella’s plot – if you can call it that – is quite simple. It is the future, 40,000 AD and the world is at piece. There is no war and no need for armies. But a scientist named Durand Durand (David Hemmings) has left Earth for a distant galaxy and with him are the plans for a new deadly weapon – The Positronic Ray. The President of the Federation of Earth recruits Barabrella to track down Durand Durand. This mission proves no easy task when Barbarella crashes her spaceship on the planet of Lythion. During her quest she meets a swag of interesting characters, including the rather hirsute Mark Hand (Ugi Tognazzi), who catches rogue children in an ice field – Pygar (John Philip Law), who is a blind angel who has lost the will to fly – and the evil Space Tyrant (Anita Pallenberg), who controls an army of black guards who root out all kindness and love in the city.

Barbarella is a flawed film, and while it may not be as stylish and kinetic as Bava’s Danger: Diabolik – with which the film is often compared because both are based on comic strips and feature John Philip Law – it certainly is a breathtaking journey, especially for those who are fond of swinging sixties excess.

But as this is Costumed Adventurer Week it is worth taking a look at the costumes featured in Barbarella (or lack there of).

During the titles Barbarella removes her spacesuit.

Barbarella sans spacesuit.

After a particularly nasty incident with some toy dolls with sharp pointy teeth, Barbarella is rescued by a man in a gorilla suit, Mark Hand (Ugo Tognazzi).

Mark Hand gives Barbarella some furs to wear (her costume had been ripped to shreds). Notice the tail! A fashion device ignored until Iggy Pop’s 1977 European tour!

Barbarella, now dressed in slimline silver space suit meets Pygar (John Phillip Law).

Barbarella captured by the Leathermen. You don’t have to be a psychologist to work out the symbolism in her costume. Silver highlights the breasts, and a bold red ‘V’ takes you directly to her crotch.

Er,…silver boobies!

Milo O’Shea stares pensively, but looks rather regal. Pointy shoulder pieces add to the ensemble. I must admit, had I been the costume designer, I would have added a big gold medallion on the centre of his chest. That’s probably why I am not a costume designer.

Here’s a snippet of information, that may please fans of Barbarella from the official site of Jean-Claude Forest and Barbarella. It also ties the character in with James Bond…after all that’s why I watched the film in the first place…she was described as a female James Bond.


April 11, 2007

Producers Dino and Martha De Laurentiis have acquired all rights to reinvent the Barbarella franchise with a new feature film, to be based on the ground-breaking comic books by Jean-Claude Forest. Dino De Laurentiis produced the classic 1968 Barbarella film, which starred Jane Fonda, was directed by Roger Vadim, and was scripted by Terry Southern. Says Dino De Laurentiis, “Barbarella is the ultimate science fiction adventure heroine: smart, strong, funny, and sexy. THE FUTURE IS FEMALE, and I’m excited to reintroduce Barbarella to a new generation of moviegoers.”

Writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (Die Another Day, The World Is Not Enough, Johnny English) will reinvent the franchise, creating a completely new and original story for this iconic heroine. Purvis and Wade most recently co-wrote Casino Royale, which grossed over half a billion dollars worldwide, and have just penned the next installment in the James Bond franchise.

The new Barbarella will be a free and modern woman who lives in a futuristic sci-fi environment and embarks on adventures using her unique intelligence, fighting skills and sex appeal. The film will combine action, adventure, humor and sensuality.
Given the power and recognition of the original character, the search for the new Barbarella has already begun and will involve both established and unknown talent throughout the world.

Film rights were acquired from Jean-Claude Forest’s only son Julien Forest, represented by Hollywood Comics principal Jean-Marc Lofficier and French agent Laurie Roy, and development of the new movie is accompanying the reissue of the first two Barbarella books and the publishing of material never before translated into English.


The Coalition Of Bloggers wRiting About Spies have teamed up this month to explore the fun and flair of Spy Costumes. Double O Section kicked off the month with an excellent series on costumed heroes. In the second week Spy Vibe followed with a series of articles and video clips: Mods To Moongirls. Next week, the coalition series will wrap up with Armstrong Sabian at Mister 8.

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