Barbarella

Tagged: Film | Comics

1. Comic strip created by French artist Jean-Claude Forest (1930-1998) for V-M Magazine in 1962. The adventures of the scantily clad blonde astronaut on the planet Lithion, a typical Planetary Romance venue, were collected as Barbarella (graph coll 1964; trans Richard Seaver 1966). Despite its humorous treatment of the soft-focus Sex she engages in with various young partners, Barbarella incurred the wrath of French censorship, perhaps because she too conspicuously resembled the real Brigitte Bardot (1934-    ). This row and the subsequent film version have tended to obscure the elegance and inventive sf content of the strip. Forest's later attempts to revive it, reducing the sex and increasing the sf elements, were less successful. Among his later, lesser-known comic books is the witty La revanche d'Hypocrite ["The Revenge of Hypocrite"] (graph 1977). [MJ/JC]

2. Film (1968). De Laurentiis-Marianne/Paramount. Directed Roger Vadim (1928-2000). Written by Terry Southern, Jean-Claude Forest, Vadim, Vittorio Bonicelli, Brian Degas, Claude Brule, Tudor Gates, Clement Biddle Wood, based on the comic strip by Forest. Cast includes Jane Fonda, David Hemmings, John Phillip Law, Milo O'Shea and Anita Pallenberg. 98 minutes. Colour.

Like Forest's strip, this Italian-French coproduction parodies the conventions of Pulp-magazine sf as typified by Flash Gordon but, where Forest's work was spare, Vadim's is lush, and it loses some of Forest's sharpness. The film is sometimes funny but seldom witty, despite the presence of Southern among the multinational crowd of eight scriptwriters. Barbarella (Fonda), agent of the Earth government, is sexually and culturally innocent in the manner of Voltaire's Candide. Her search for a missing scientist on "Planet 16 of the Tau Ceti system" results in an ever more baroque series of (mostly sexual) encounters: with sadistic Children and their carnivorous dolls (see Toys in SF), with a blind angel (Law), with an inadequate revolutionary (Hemmings), with a pleasure machine and with the decadent lesbian Black Queen (Pallenberg), among others. Fonda – whose clothes look as if designed by Earle K Bergey – is memorable for her attractively wide-eyed air, combining eroticism with bafflement. Feminist critics were outraged at Vadim's exploitation of his real-life wife's sexuality in so voyeuristic a manner – he had done it before with Brigitte Bardot – though his evocation of the decadence he so obviously enjoys appears adolescent rather than corrupt. The exoticism with which the planet's wicked City of SoGo (from Sodom and Gomorrah) is depicted is what makes Barbarella a distinguished sf film; a real, if intermittent, Sense of Wonder is created by the sheer alienness of Mario Garbuglia's production design and Enrico Fea's art direction, all glowingly photographed by Claude Renoir. [PN]

3. Stage musical (2004). Written by UK pop musician Dave Stewart and based on the film, this musical premiered in Vienna, Austria, on 11 March 2004 and closed on 1 January 2005. Barbarella was played by Nina Proll. A cast recording was made, but is not publicly available. [AR]

further reading

  • Jean-Claude Forest. Barbarella (Paris: Le Terrain Vague, 1964) [coll: graph: first appeared Spring 1962 V-Magazine: illus/hb/Jean-Claude Forest]
    • Jean-Claude Forest. Barbarella (New York: Grove Press, 1966) [coll: graph: trans by Richard Seaver of the above: illus/hb/Jean-Claude Forest]

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