Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Barbarella (1968)

The first thing that you notice about this film is just how "1960s" it is, from the brown shag-pile carpeting that lines Barbarella (Jane Fonda)'s space ship to the pneumatic travel tubes that transport people around the city of Sogo (straight out of the then new Jetsons cartoon).  The plot is also something that could only come out of the 1960s, but this review isn't concerned with the plot.
It is important to remember that the film is based upon a comic strip, and as Kim Newman says in his review for Empire, "(this sort of film is)...literally episodic, preserving the plot lurches of a medium given to introducing new characters and settings every week, and have a bubbly, pop-art sensibility that spends more time on the art direction, the costuming and the psychedelic music track than the plot".  As a result however, the film is a visual treat, with 1960's psychedelic front-projection backdrops and ridiculously over-the-top and impractical outfits.
Since the movie was filmed entirely on sound stages, it can feel divorced from reality, an effect that perfectly suits its 1960s futuristic setting.  This was created by a collaboration between the original comic's artist, Jean-Claude Forest, and italian designer Mario Garbuglia.  All of the sets and miniature work were built by hand, and still look visually distinctive today, although they do look very dated.  The film was made using the very latest in 1960s special effects, and although these can look awkward today (the wire-work especially), they are used quite imaginatively in places.  As Mark Hodgeson says in his Black Hole blog review, "the use of front-projection...allowed for a startling new look, where shifting colourful patterns expand bare sets into looking huge and unworldly."
Interestingly, the sets are all very clean and (for the 1960s at least) modern.  Even the dystopian city of Sogo ("city of ultimate evil") is considerably less grimy and ramshackle than say the Los Angeles of Blade Runner.  This suggests that at the time the future was viewed (perhaps optimistically) as a better place to be.  However, to modern eyes this seems a little unlikely, and perhaps even fortunate if the future is, as Almar Haflidason suggests in his BBC review, one in which "...we can look forward to losing all fashion sense and embracing synthetic fibres with a vengeance."
Overall then, this film is very much of its time, however, along with TV shows such as UFO it offers an unusual view of the future; one in which the 1960's spirit of optimism and design continued unabated.


  1. a very even handed review, Dan - but just edit your date, you've got it at 1986 - which is the sort of mistake I expect from myself - not from you! :D

  2. O.o whoops ^^; fixed now, thank you for the heads up