Saturday, November 7, 2009

Only Who Can Save The Universe?


Sometimes I'm afraid to admit how much I love this movie. Not because it's a deliberately campy cheese-fest of brobdinagian proportions with a silly soundtrack with song titles like "I Love All The Love In You" performed by Bob Crewe and The Glitterhouse Orchestra. While any one of these reasons would be enough to fill me with the fear of eternal damnation were I to use the words "love" and "Barbarella" in the same sentence.

It's because of her. Because of Hanoi Jane.

Damn you, Jane Fonda! Damn you for the follies of your youth! Why could you not have stayed married to Roger Vadim and spent your youth as an internationally-desired sex kitten?

Anyhow, my history with this goes all the way back to 1977, otherwise known as The Year Star Wars Came Out And Changed Everything. Now. This is the weird part. Because in 1977, Barbarella was almost ten years old. It originally came out in 1969. So what in the name of Christ and all his disciples was it doing being shoved back into theaters nearly a decade after its expiration date?

I have a theory. Bear with me.

It goes like this: movie studio executives did not expect Star Wars to be a hit, much less the cultural phenomena it went on to become. Star Wars had sucked the life from everything the other studios had dumped into the theaters (The CarMarch Or Die, etc), soaking up dollar after dollar and, with Christmas on the way, it seemed that there was no end in sight. What to do? What to do? No time to rush anything into production. What to do? Hey, I know! Let's grab something science-fiction-y from the vaults, get Boris Vallejo to crap out a new poster, then dump it into theaters. Since its already been paid for, anything it returns at the box office will be nothing but pure profit.

"Make it so," the high studio mucky-muck intoned, and so mote it be.

So it goes that I saw an ad for it in the paper and, hormones raging, suggested to my brother that, rather than taking in another showing of Star Wars, we get my dad drop us off at the Patterson (not the home of the Baltimore Creative Alliance) to take in a screening of Barbarella. Or two. Or more, had my dad not returned to get us and, annoyed that we were not waiting out front like we were supposed to be, come into the theater to find us. Much to my chagrin and my brother's delight.

I was, as they say, enthralled by Roger Vadim's campy vision. The effects were just good enough to be called special. The music, as performed by Bob Crewe and the newly-minted (in '69, that is) Glitterhouse Orchestra, was pure mid-to-late '60s schmaltz, and nothing but gooey good fun. And Jane herself, all squishy and squeezably soft boobies and butt, was the perfect confection, the most delectable bit of eye candy my poor, deprived (depraved) 13-year-old eyes had had the pleasure to rest upon until that moment. When the my brother begged—begged!—the question: "Can we please leave now?" as the credits rolled I demurred. I wanted needed to see it AGAIN.

And so we did. And then my father came to get us and we went home and I could not stop thinking about this movie. It had in ways only a handful of other movies had embedded itself deep into parts of my brain I had not yet begun to explore.

I was obsessed.

The credits proclaimed that the movie was based upon the novel by Jean-Claude Forest. I later discovered that it was actually a "graphic" novel; not long after I had secured a copy of this graphic novel (still have it). From the pages of various Atlas Comics I found that there was a soundtrack issued. In due time, I braved the cold, cold streets of Baltimore city itself, locating and visiting a walkdown store (no longer there) on Charles Street to purchase a copy of that album (still have that, too). From Jerry Ohlinger's Movie Memorabilia Store I mail ordered a copy of the Boris Vallejo poster and bunches of black-and-white stills (still have the stills; the poster, however, has long since bit the big one, fraying from the pin-holed corners that progressed toward the center like a devastating, papery cancer). When home video came knock-knock-knocking at my front door, Barbarella was among the first movies secured on VHS, to be followed by the laser disc and, now, the DVD. The vinyl album was retired and replaced with with a CD, ordered from an online store in the great country of Britain (I'm listening to it as I write this). I've also added a vintage hardcover edition of the original graphic novel as well as the oversized, circa early 1980s sequel.

And yet. And yet whenever I mention this movie to various certain friends, I get that look, the one that says, "I would never watch that movie, let alone allow a copy of it in my home, because of what that bitch did to our boys." And, you know, I can (kinda) sympathize. Because if I had been aware of what she'd done (if I hadn't been playing in the dirt in the back yard or shop-lifting toy from the local Two Guys department store), I'd probably not be too terribly inclined to give a movie like Barbarella a chance.

I can only offer the following in my defense:

1. It's not like I was there, yanking the howitzer's lanyard alongside Jane while she was visiting Hanoi and hanging out with the enemies of our country.

2. Moreover, my favorite Jane Fonda movie was made years before she went off without thinking and made herself a target and lifelong enemy of America's conservative elite (whoever the hell they might be).

3. Barbarella is the only Jane Fonda movie I have in my collection, even though I kinda thought she was okay in On Gold Pond opposite her dad.

4. My love (obsession) for this movie developed out of teenager's love of feminine pulchritude and the mysteries of the opposite sex and therefore has fuck-all to do with politics.

Maybe, just maybe, if I could sit down with my conservative friends and explain it to them, as I've explained it to you (whomever you may be), they would nod in understanding and say, "You know, I hate that bitch beyond reason but you've made your point and made it well and, therefore, I forgive you and accept your love of this movie."

Forgive me they may, once they've heard and considered my defense. But still the one person who will never forgive is my brother, whom I made sit through Barbarella twice that evening over thirty years ago.

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