Late Friday nights on British television back in the 1970s was essential viewing for a hormonal teenage boy and budding cinephile (especially once his mother had gone to bed) for it was then that they would show cult, arthouse, and horror films which, besides being an introduction to the stranger and more risqué end of cinema, usually had some naked ladies in them too. My personal Hall of Fame from those nights on our couch includes Walkabout, Girl On A Motorbike, Baby Love, The Shuttered Room and To The Devil A Daughter which aren’t all particularly great movies (most of them aren’t in fact) but they burned themselves into my adolescent brain for one reason or other — well, OK, mostly one reason — so much so that I can still remember my first, slightly freaked-out encounter with them 35 years later.
Being a typical teenage boy I was also into comics and science fiction so a movie which combined those things with naughty bits would have to be pretty much the greatest thing since spam fritters, so when I first saw Barbarella — robots, spaceships, monsters and Jane Fonda bonking her way across the galaxy — I thought I’d died and gone to boy heaven.
A kitsch riot of sex, space travel and shag-pile carpets, it was like watching a very groovy episode of Dr. Who directed by Hugh Hefner and featuring Louise Jameson having it off with the Cybermen. Even though it was based on a comic book it was far weirder than anything Stan Lee ever dreamed up and wasn’t set in any world I recognized from reading Spiderman, (though I wouldn’t have minded seeing Gwen Stacy in one of those sexy outfits). I wasn’t really aware of this at the time but there was such a thing as “adult” — and French — comics which, in this case, meant sex, sex and more sex, plus really twisted, creepy things like the evil little dolls with razor sharp teeth which made my skin crawl at the time (and still do actually). The people who made Barbarella were clearly degenerate weirdos who did lots of drugs and it was bloody marvelous as a result. It probably did my head in more than any of the films mentioned above because it was so damn freaky (and silly and saucy) and even though it’s often camper than a row of tents it’s also visually stunning with some amazing set and costume designs.
And, of course, Jane Fonda looks absolutely ravishing in it. She’s had so many other lives since she made Barbarella — anti-war activist, serious actress, work-out video queen, billionaire’s trophy wife — that it’s easy to forget she was once a sex symbol (with a verrrry sexy voice to boot) and she’d probably rather forget she ever did something as fluffy and kitschy as that, not least because she apparently turned down the lead role in Bonnie and Clyde to do it. But my teenage self, for one, would like to thank her very much indeed.
You probably know that Duran Duran got their name from a character in the movie and played their first gigs at a Birmingham club called Barbarella’s, which makes my choice of record easy.
Download: Girls On Film (Night Version) – Duran Duran (mp3)