Kool Kat of the Week: David Richardson, a.k.a. “Baby Doll Schultz,” Glams and Hams it up with Chris Buxbaum during Their “Schizophrenic Photogenic” Opening Party at Luckie Street Gallery!

Posted on: Jun 25th, 2014 By:

by Melanie Crew
Managing Editor/
Contributing Writer

Get dolled up in your sleaziest glam get-ups because David Richardson, a.k.a. “Baby Doll Schultz” and Kool Kat Chris (Beat) Buxbaum [December 2012; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Chris Buxbaum, here] have a phantasmagoric ballyhoo of sizzlin’ sights, sounds and tastes awaiting your deviant little hearts at their “Schizophrenic Photogenic” opening event invading Luckie Street Gallary this Saturday, June 28, from 7 to 11 pm! So, get scandalous and strut your stuff down to the Luckie Street Gallary for a night of mischief and mayhem!

David has been rockin’ the glammed up club scene since the early ‘80s, donning provocative style and inventive transformative creations, birthing the evolution of his stage persona, “Baby Doll Schultz”!  In the late ‘80s to mid ‘90s, he was a member of Elaganza, a comedic drag troupe that performed at Atlanta hot spots: the White Dot, Blake’s, Backstreet, the Metro and various other clubs that have since closed. He’s performed with ATLRetro’s sci-fi vaudeville Burly-Q faves, Blast-Off Burlesque, was a member of The Anatomy Theatre, a band that combined electronica with performance art and even had the opportunity to portray his idol, Divine during performances at The Plaza Theatre’s screenings of John WatersFEMALE TROUBLE (1974) and PINK FLAMINGOS (1972)!

ATLRetro caught up with David for a quick interview about his love of dramatic costuming, his stimulating past performances, his love of John Waters and his upcoming rockin’ art show, “Schizophrenic Photogenic,” with Chris Buxbaum . And while you’re gettin’ voyeuristic with our little Q&A with David, experience Baby Doll Schultz in action with his former drag comedy troupe, Eleganza at the Metro, performing a parody of Tammy Faye Bakker, here.

ATLRetro: Your taste for the glamorous drag scene erupted in the early ’80s when you began getting dolled up while clubbing and performing at some infamous ATL hot spots, such as the White Dot, Blake’s, Backstreet and the Metro. What drew you to this energetic sub-culture of erotic and phantasmal proportions?

David Richardson: The fantasy and possibility that is inherent in nightlife has always had a lot of appeal for me. You can be anything or anyone you wish to be, if only for one night. You’re not required to be real or politically correct or anything. You can be a different person every night if that is your desire. The donning of makeup and dramatic attire is freeing in the sense that it allows one to play a character and inhibitions are lowered, thus allowing you to be more yourself and more the way you would like yourself to be.

Having rocked the glam club scene of the early ’80s to the ’90s, would you say the scene has changed? Any nostalgia for the old days? What would you say has improved?

The scene is definitely different now. There aren’t as many large clubs and 24-hour clubs are extinct. The average club-goer doesn’t put as much effort into their look now as back then, when everyone seemingly strived to be a fashion plate. That’s not to say it isn’t vibrant and fun today, because it is! The thing I miss most about the old days is the music; maybe because it was all new to me, but I prefer older music. Somehow it seems more meaningful. What I really dig about clubbing now is the young drag queens. They are really great. The makeup is more extreme, the looks are more fashion forward and they seem totally prepared when they hit the stage. I can’t tell you how many times I stumbled onto a stage, not knowing the words to my song and not having worked out a routine of any kind. Luckily my improvisational skills and the spontaneity of the moment saved me on more than one occasion!

You’ve shared the stage with our sci-fi punk vaudeville pals, Blast-Off Burlesque.  What was your favorite performance with them, and why?

My favorite was when we performed BARBARELLA (1968) at Dragon Con 2013 in the Glamour Geek Revue [See performance here]. It was my first time at Dragon Con and I loved it! There was such a sense of wonder and joy at Dragon Con; the dedication to costuming and achieving perfection in a look was completely evident. I got to play the “Great Tyrant”, complete with a golden unicorn horn. I made the costume for that show, which was covered with hundreds of hand-sewn feathers and took a full month to make. I am very proud of that look! I have loved every performance with Blast-Off Burlesque, but our show at Dragon Con 2013 was extra special!

Can you tell our readers a little about your glory days as a drag performer with the troupe, Eleganza?

We (Eleganza) lampooned the ‘70s and ‘80s, with our best shows being thematic. For example, we had a “Fashionquake,” where each member made a mini-collection with two models sporting fashions made of trash and disposable materials. All of our fabulous fashions were destroyed in the finale when an “earthquake” hit the club. We also had a STAR WARS night where all of the numbers were of a sci-fi nature. That night culminated in me wrestling a heckler, who was a collaborating performer planted in the audience, in a kiddie pool full of pork and beans, no less. We also had “The Joey Heatherton Bleach Marathon”, a new-wave night, a show that was a homage to the LOVE BOAT and our “Beautify America” night, where we did makeovers on audience members who we then attacked with cans of shaving cream. The troupe even created a feature length video, directed by David A. Moore, called HAVE YOU SEEN KRYSTLE LITE?, which premiered at Backstreet. The other members of Eleganza were Trina Saxxon, Clive Jackson, Superchic, Krystle Lite, Lurleen and Judy La Grange. We even had Lady Bunny as a special guest one night. Our performances were all pretty irreverent and unpolished, but we had a blast and did it with enthusiasm.

What can you tell our readers about your ’90s band, “The Anatomy Theatre”? And your rock opera play, “The Asylum” that you’d perform at the Masquerade?

The Anatomy Theatre was the brain child of my friend Myron, blending electronic music with performance-art theater. “The Asylum was an electronic rock opera of sorts set in an insane asylum. Myron was “Dr. Boris” and another friend, Carla, was “Nurse Needles”. They cured the patients by killing them. I played “Harold”, a psychosexual. My cure was electro shock therapy in an electric chair. Stacy, another friend, got a lobotomy with a power drill in the show while our friend Scott was given a scalpel to eviscerate himself. It was replete with gore and black humor. We performed the play three times at the Masquerade. Myron released two self-produced cassettes and performed numerous times, even opening for The Legendary Pink Dots and Frontline Assembly.

You’ve stated that you had the opportunity to play your favorite idol, “Divine”, on a few occasions during The Plaza’s screenings of FEMALE TROUBLE and PINK FLAMINGOS. What about her do you admire? Are there other drag queens you’d like to impersonate?

When I was a kid, I remember reading a review of PINK FLAMINGOS (1972) in the newspaper and it really fascinated me. I didn’t get to see the film until a decade later, on home video, and it got me hooked on John Waters and Divine. What inspires me most about Divine is the absolute fearlessness and ferocity she projected. She also showed me that big girls don’t have to hide in the shadows but can shake it up there with the best of them. I was really honored to play “Dawn Davenport” and “Babs Johnson” with Blast-Off Burlesque. It would be fun to impersonate Lady Bunny because her look is so iconic and recognizable.

You stated that in the late ’90s you withdrew from the rowdy nightlife and became ‘domesticated’.  It seems you’re back, and better than ever! What was the catalyst that drew you back into the fabulously raucous flame of female impersonation?

(It was a) Midlife crisis, I guess. I was wondering if my best years were behind me and decided not to withdraw quietly into seclusion. I returned to my passion, dressing up. I believe that my looks now are more accomplished and thoughtful, and I find inspiration everywhere. I even dream of outfits and concepts to hybridize into my collection of characters.

How did you and Chris (Beat) Buxbaum meet? You two seem to have a vibrant artistic relationship; one that screams out in the wicked art you two create. How did you become Chris’ saucy and sinister subject?

I met Chris Buxbaum back in the late 1980s. We had a ton of mutual friends. We didn’t actually start working together until about three years ago when he was photographing the fabulous performers of “Sukeban, a very creative group of individuals performing at My Sisters Room in East Atlanta Village [FENUXE, November 2010]. His photographs at “Sukeban eventually became his “Transformers show. From there, he approached me with the “Schizophrenic Photogenic project and naturally, I was intrigued. It doesn’t hurt that I’m a big old camera hog and a ham! It all seemed so natural and easy.

I also participated in a MODA (Museum of Design Atlanta) event with Chris and Kool Kat Caryn Grossman titled, “The South’s Next Wave: Design Challenge” [December 2012; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Chris Buxbaum and Caryn Grossman, here]. During this event, an interior designer was paired with an object-maker and given a color theme to produce a vignette installation. They (Chris and Caryn) were paired with a fabulous cake-maker and given the color blue. The vignette was inspired by Marie Antoinette in a futuristic rococo boudoir setting. Our team went on to win the challenge, which was decided by patron’s votes for their favorite vignette.

What can our readers expect when they come to ‘Schizophrenic Photogenic’ at the LUCKIE STREET GALLERY?

A Happening! A Warhol Factory-style event is the goal of our opening. I’m very pleased and proud of what we have accomplished. The photos are stunning and hopefully each character depicted tells a story. We are encouraging patrons to attend decked out in the most extreme glamour-sleaze looks they can get their hands on. The best look will win a prize!

Do you have anything special planned for ‘Schizophrenic Photogenic’? A little rockin’ hell-raising and deviant shenanigans, maybe? Give our readers a little taste of what mischief and mahhh-velous mayhem they may find themselves mixed up in!

I will be getting into face for the bulk of the opening at a pink satin vanity, adding and layering more and more until my face is completely covered. I plan to be a cross between Liz Taylor in the film BOOM (1968) and Incan Princess Yma Sumac. A silent film, LA BOITE DE BIJOUTERIE, shot by Milford Earl Thomas, will be playing on loop for the duration of the night. There will also be live music performed by Weary Heads, featuring Chris’ son Henry Buxbaum on vocals and bass along with his band mate Andrew Boehnlein. Usually a very feedback noisy band, they are doing a special unplugged set that may include some glamorous and sexy covers. Drinks will be provided by Jennifer Betowt and Deep Eddy Vodka will be featuring four different flavored vodka cocktails!

What’s next for Baby Doll Schultz?

I fully expect the world to entertain me with experiences not yet anticipated! Foregoing such, I will create my own experiences, continuing to explore the magic of transformational costuming. There are many upcoming events which I will attend in order to support the creative efforts of others, but, as of now (for me) I am in the hands of vagabond winds and will set sail to whatever destination they take me.

What question do you wish somebody would ask you? And what’s the answer?

I wish someone would ask, “Are you bringing Disco back?” to which I would reply, “I’m bringing sexy back!”, but really, just kidding (I am bringing Disco back)! But seriously, to answer the question, I wish someone would ask me if I enjoy what I do. Too often I get asked where my ideas come from and how I come up with what I do. The answer is innate to who I am, so my looks and outfits come out of my experiences and what I want to portray. And the answer to whether if I enjoy what I do is a resounding, “Yes, yes, yes!”

Can you tell folks something about you that they don’t know already?

I am a big time movie buff; my favorites are the Italian Giallos of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Anything by Dario Argento of course, and there are also some wonderful offerings from Mario Bava. Any of the Giallos starring Edwige Fenech are stand outs for me!

All photos courtesy of Chris Buxbaum and used with permission.

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Grindhouse Meets Art House in FLESH GORDON, or When Is the Last Time You Talked to Your Mother About Porn?

Posted on: Apr 24th, 2013 By:

FLESH GORDON (1974); Dirs: Michael Benveniste, Howard Ziehm; Starring Jason Williams, Suzanne Fields; Cineprov Presents on Sunday April 284, 7:30 p.m.; The Plaza Theatre, Trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

When is the last time you talked to your mother about porn?

Yeah, OK. That’s a weird question. Let’s back up for a little context.

This Friday, the Plaza begins a run of one of the weirdest relics of the 1970s, softcore porn spoof FLESH GORDON. If you’ve ever doubted the commitment and film credentials of the new Plaza ownership, it may be time to suspend your disbelief, because I honestly don’t know another theatre in the city brave enough to put a softcore title on the screen just because they can. And GORDON is more than just a silly porno. It’s a genuine oddity, a movie with a unique role in film history and a gateway into that bizarro time in the 20th century when it was cool to watch porn.

When film projectors were invented over 100 years ago, the first bulb wasn’t cool before people found a way to use it for porn. Many of the earliest films we know about were skin flicks and erotica, because, then-as-now, that’s where the money was. But porn was always an outsider in the entertainment business, buried and segregated by strict, sometimes-draconian interpretations of obscenity laws. Porn was the film industry’s dirty secret, the seedy cousin nobody wants to talk about.

An unusual and powerful combination of events radically reshaped the porn industry in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Sexual Revolution of the 60s became a point of cultural pride for the many young people living through civil unrest, a way to fully distinguish themselves from the conservative generation of their parents. For some, freer sex equated to progress, and that notion led to some strange experiments in the name of moving forward. This shift in the culture caused a general relaxing of local and federal obscenity laws, which in turn opened the door for wider distribution of porno publications and, eventually, the opening of theaters exclusively and proudly devoted to pornographic films. All of those screens needed content, and a batch of eager filmmakers rushed into the new market, filmmakers with big ideas inspired by a larger trend of European art films which happened to be arriving on American shores at about the same time, sexy films like BLOW-UP (1966), PERSONA (1966) and the arthouse thrillers of Roman Polanski. Those films had blurred the line between smut and art in a way that seemed to point to a number of possibilities: if films with sex could be art, well, then sex films could be art, too!

This resulted in an extremely brief, but intensely weird trend dubbed by some as “porno-chic.” The trend began in 1970 with Michael Benveniste’s MONA THE VIRGIN NYMPH, the first major narrative hardcore porno film, and the first porn movie to receive widespread release in America. The success of MONA brought more attention to porn, and within two years, the genre had its first real “masterpieces” and mainstream box office smashes with BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR (1972) and the phenomenon DEEP THROAT (1972). As if the world hadn’t gone topsy turvy enough, porn films became the talk of mainstream film critics and big-city intellectuals, and many felt as if they couldn’t keep up with the water cooler conversation unless they were up to date on the latest stag flicks. Some porn stars—most famously Marilyn Chambers—threatened to break out of porn and into Hollywood.

It was into this environment that FLESH GORDON arrived. FLESH was an attempt at a big, mainstream porn comedy, co-directed by the father of porno-chic himself, MONA director Benveniste, but by the time FLESH was released, the trend was already slinking back into the shadows. FLESH takes as its target the original FLASH GORDON serials of the 1930s (not the more-famous FLASH GORDON film, which came six years after its porno progenitor) and places its hero on the planet Porno Mongo, ruled by the evil Wang the Perverted. Flesh’s mission: to stop a sex ray that could turn all of Earth into sex fiends. (A similar story, it turns out, to 1968’s BARBARELLA.) To give you a window into the film’s sense of humor, when Flesh and his crew arrive on Porno Mongo, they are attacked by a large, throbbing monster. It’s called, of course, a Penisaurus.

So it’s not high art, but FLESH GORDON is more of a pleasure for film fans than a pain. While we may look at porn parodies today as hopelessly cheap and shlocky, nobody told the FLESH GORDON crew that they weren’t making a real film. The movie has a goofy sense of humor that gets it through the creaky plot, and it features incredibly-cool and inventive special effects, including a series of stop-motion critters designed and executed by future industry legends like Mike Minor (STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE [1979]) and one of the all-time great movie monster makers, Rick Baker. FLESH GORDON exists at that one narrow crossroads in film history where porno ambitions met mainstream talent, and it provides a glimpse into a different direction that American movies might have gone. Despite the tendency of porn to exploit its stars, there’s nothing mean-spirited in FLESH GORDON’s softcore spirit. The film is packed with nudity from end to end, but often feels more like admiration than exploitation, more Russ Meyer than Chuck Traynor.

There’s some confusion as to the different versions of FLESH GORDON available to the public. For many years, the only version of the film available was a heavily-edited 72 minutes long, and rumors persisted of a longer hardcore cut. But when the restored, uncut version appeared years later, it remained softcore. (This uncut version is the one playing at the Plaza) Co-director Howard Ziehm has stated that there were hardcore scenes filmed, but that they were nabbed by police in an obscenity-law sting and have been permanently lost. This is probably for the best. Part of the fun of FLESH GORDON is the way that, despite its rampant nudity and bawdy sexuality, the film somehow retains its gee-whiz innocence. Penetration tends to ruin that illusion.

The moment of the mainstream porn film was basically gone by the time FLESH GORDON arrived, but the film’s legacy is still felt today. GORDON was the first porn spoof, and its success in, frankly, getting away with it blazed a trail for decades of porno spoofs that have become the most famous version of the form. If you’ve ever sat around wondering what the “porn name” of your favorite mainstream film would be, you owe a debt, however small, to FLESH GORDON. Sadly, today’s pornos have give up on the clever titles and funny rebranding in favor of just putting “parody” right in the name. I know it’s porn we’re talking about here, but come on. “Batman: The Porn Parody?” Where’s the fun in that?

So how did I wind up talking with my mother about porn? Well, I realized that Mom would have been in her 20s at the peak of porno-chic. Surely she knew about it. Was she aware it was going on? Did she *gasp* see DEEP THROAT? I approached the subject with some caution and, after some explaining, she agreed to answer my question. She looked me right in the eye and said, “Son, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Thank you, Mom. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game writer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He writes at www.thehollywoodprojects.com and hosts a bimonthly screening series of classic films at theaters around Atlanta.

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Retro Review: BARBARELLA, Take Two, or Today, I Watched Jane Fonda Narrowly Escape Death-by-Orgasm in the Excessive Machine; How Was Your Day?

Posted on: Jan 25th, 2013 By:

BARBARELLA (1968); Dir: Roger Vadim; Screenplay by Terry Southern; Based on a bande dessinee by Jean-Claude Forest; Starring Jane Fonda, John Phillip Law, Anita Pallenberg, David Hemmings, Milo O’Shea, Marcel Marceau; Plaza Theatre, Saturday, January 26 at 10:00pm; presented by BLAST-OFF BURLESQUE’S TABOO-LA-LA with live stage show before the screening including raffle of 10 8×10 signed photos of Fonda as Barbarella from Jane Fonda’s personal collection; Trailer here

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

Today, I watched Jane Fonda narrowly escape death-by-orgasm in the Excessive Machine. How was your day?

Although I’d never seen BARBARELLA (1968), the infamous sci-fi sex romp produced by Dino de Laurentiis and directed by Roger Vadim, before today, I definitely knew about it. Almost everyone knows about it. BARBARELLA is a movie with more reputation than respect, a movie that, depending on who you ask, is either awful or awfully amazing. Just its name invokes a few key images—that amazing poster by Robert McGinnis; Jane Fonda’s buxom, uh, hair. I grew up in a post-STAR WARS world, when just the sight of a science-fiction ray blaster promised a particular brand of space fantasy and action, but combine aliens and thrills with the promise of a naked, beautiful woman? There’s not enough concrete on Earth to build a wall an adolescent boy can’t climb.

But I never made it over that wall. Yes, it’s true that young boys can sniff out nudie films like pigs root up truffles, but you guys have never met my mother. I once got a few short minutes of FLASH GORDON (1980) and its adventurous female costumes on the TV before she stomped into the room, feeling a psychic disturbance, I suppose, in her son’s mind. She played goalie effectively until around the time I entered high school, and by then I had found other ways to see boobs. And so, somehow, Barbarella and I had never met.

Durand Durand (Milo O'Shea_ tries to defeat Barbarella (Fonda) with death by orgasm. Paramount Pictures, 1968.

BARBARELLA was a famous flop at the box office, but its racy content, goofy cheerfulness about sex and outrageous set design—the spaceship is lined with shag carpet!—fit snugly with the mood of the late 1960s, at least with certain segments of the youth. The film quickly gained a cult infamy, especially as its star, Jane Fonda, transitioned into A-pictures and won an Oscar for the popular detective film, KLUTE (1971). There’s always been kind of a funny dividing line between mainstream film and exploitation, and it’s thrilling when some star gets a weekend pass to play on the other side, whether it’s Bruce Campbell showing up in SPIDER-MAN (2002) or Jane Fonda taking her clothes off. It was impossibly tantalizing to know that a major actress had once bared it all in a sex adventure, especially before home video, when the only way to see something like BARBARELLA was to catch a revival screening, and there weren’t nearly enough of those. Lack of availability helped grow the film’s legend, and it soon became trendy and cool to latch onto its camp appeal. Even by the early 1970s, a club named Barbarella’s existed in the UK, and it became a key location in the developing punk scene, hosting bands like The Sex Pistols and The Clash. One rising band that played frequently at the club even sampled clips and songs from the film into their music, tweaking the name of the film’s villain, Durand-Durand, into their own name, Duran Duran.

But it was the 1960s; everyone was taking their clothes off, right? There were plenty of sex movies in the world. What is it about BARBARELLA that keeps it going? “I just remember seeing that strip tease during the opening and being in love with the world,” says Max Shell, director of the undead-chicken cult movie THE DEVIL’S COCK. “Dino’s [de Laurentiis] Euro Sci-Fi is about ‘getting it on!’”

Melanie Magnifique of Blast-Off Burlesque takes a more esoteric approach. “I was traversing the spirit lands, when this film was released in conventional space-time. When I first experienced it, many years later, it was still the powerful tale of a girl doing what a girl’s sometimes got to do!”

The famous poster by Robert McGinnis.

Aha! If there’s another narrative to the BARBARELLA appeal beyond sex, it’s girl power. The film came at this neat little intersection of the free love ‘60s and the peak of the misogynist spy fantasies like James Bond. There had simply never been a female action hero who freely used and enjoyed sex while saving the day. (Hell, it’s still hard to find a character like that today!) Perhaps this explains why Barbarella became a feminist icon, and a popular cosplay target for over 40 years. It’s common to see Barbarellas walking the floors at comic book shows and sci-fi conventions, and the heroine’s legend is so large today that the film lives under constant threat of remake, with the most recent major attempt fronted by director Robert Rodriguez as a vehicle for Rose McGowan, who he’d already cast once as an ass-kicker in his GRINDHOUSE entry, PLANET TERROR (2007).

Does BARBARELLA deserve its infamy? I finally sat down to watch the film today, and I was kind of amazed with what I found. Despite its legacy in the sexual revolution, BARBARELLA can sometimes be cruel, and other times naïve. After the famous opening strip scene (described in wonderful detail here on this very site), we learn that Fonda’s secret agent is a wide-eyed wonder. A child of a civilization that has evolved beyond violence and pain, she greets the world with simple joy and, when confronted with the bizarre horrors in an “unevolved” part of the galaxy, she simply pushes through and perseveres, using far more optimism than skill. Melanie Magnifique rightly describes Barbarella as “a female protagonist who wants to do the right thing, but is sometimes a little confused about what that thing is.” Fonda’s earnest devotion to her mission is entertaining, even if that mission sometimes devolves into bizarre, disconnected segments. She’s nearly devoured by carnivorous songbirds, for crying out loud.

As for the sex, my adolescent self would have enjoyed Fonda’s matter-of-fact approach to her body and to the sexual beings she encounters. She’s more or less willing to have sex just for the asking, which works both for and against her feminist reputation. On the one hand, the film is full of scenes of sexual aggression or sexual bartering. Sex is a currency that gets Barbarella from place to place, and there’s an unsettling trend towards sexual torture. It’s easy to read the film as misogynist, using Barbarella as a doll to act out aggressive male fantasies. But, on the other hand, there’s something charming and empowering about how Barbarella, after having been introduced to real sex (in the future, evolved beings do it with a pill) by an impossibly masculine hunter, Barbarella blossoms as a sexual being, pursuing sex with the chiseled angel Pygar and showing frustration when a bumbling freedom fighter (the awesome David Hemmings in the film’s best supporting role) wants to do it with the pill.

Although the film sought mainstream success, BARBARELLA is a movie destined for cult status. Like every good cult flick, there are moments that you simply can’t believe you’re seeing, scenes that should be impossible in a well-budgeted studio film, and yet here they are. This is a film for an audience, if simply so you can turn to the person next to you to share a laugh and one of those “holy shit” looks. This movie should be *ahem* a shared experience, not a solo trip. Even with all the sex, there’s something incredibly innocent about the film, and it serves as a window into a more optimistic, good-natured time. It’s fitting, then, that it’s being hosted at the Plaza this weekend by Blast-Off Burlesque. Burlesque itself is an art form that walks that beautiful line between sweetness and spice, and BARBARELLA is their kind of movie. When asked about the links between burlesque and BARBARELLA, Melanie Magnifique agreed: “It contains many simple theatrical tricks which are used to achieve special effects (we do that a lot).”

“Oh, also, we love to smoke Essence of Man.”

The show starts at 10 pm on Saturday with music, a dance party and complementary signature cocktails, but says Magnifique, “Come early to get your groove on!”

And be sure to read our other Retro Review: Jane Fonda Has No Clothes On: Stripping Down Our Love Affair with Psychedelic ’60s SF Camp Cult Classic BARBARELLA in Time for a Blast-Off Burlesque Taboo-La-La at the Plaza Theatre by Robert Emmett Murphy Jr.

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Retro Review: Jane Fonda Has No Clothes On: Stripping Down Our Love Affair with Psychedelic ’60s SF Camp Cult Classic BARBARELLA in Time for a Blast-Off Burlesque Taboo-La-La at the Plaza Theatre

Posted on: Jan 21st, 2013 By:

BARBARELLA (1968); Dir: Roger Vadim; Screenplay by Terry Southern; Based on a bande dessinee by Jean-Claude Forest; Starring Jane Fonda, John Phillip Law, Anita Pallenberg, David Hemmings, Milo O’Shea, Marcel Marceau; Plaza Theatre, Saturday, January 26 at 10:00pm; presented by BLAST-OFF BURLESQUE’S TABOO-LA-LA with live stage show before the screening including raffle of 10 8×10 signed photos of Fonda as Barbarella from Jane Fonda’s personal collection; Trailer here.

By Robert Emmett Murphy Jr.
Special to ATLRetro.com

BARBARELLA is a special kind of cinematic disaster. A lavish space-opera comedy released in 1968, the most important year in SF cinema since 1951, it had a $9 million budget, making it only modestly less expensive than the same year’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY ($10.5 M) and more expensive than that year’s PLANET OF THE APES ($5.8 M). Meant to celebrate the era’s new found sexual freedom and the changing role of women in society, BARBARELLA is one of those films in which the first five minutes tell you everything you are going to get, as well as promising you all the things it should’ve given us and simply failed to deliver.

The opening image is a lovely array of stars, and hanging within it an improbable and more than slightly feminine-looking space ship. We move in closer until we can see through a portal into the fur-lined cockpit…

Full stop. Christ, I can’t believe I just wrote that: “fur-lined cockpit.” You know that whoever came up with that idea was thinking ahead to an exhausted film reviewer of a more innocent age, sometime after midnight hammering out copy and tearing his hair out screaming, “HOW CAN I GET THIS PAST THE EDITORS!”

Jane Fonda as BARBARELLA. Paramount Pictures, 1968.

OK, so we can see through a portal into the fur-lined cockpit where a space-suited figure floats in a really excellent simulation of zero-gravity (also a simple illusion, the astronaut is filmed from above while lying on a plexiglass platform). The identify is hidden behind a featureless metal helmet. But the material transforms from metal to clear plexiglass (another fine piece of simple FX, the reflective metal is actually a liquid in a space within the helmet’s bowel-like structure. It’s merely drained through the bottom.) revealing the “spaceman” is actually a not-quite-yet-30 Jane Fonda, never looking more beautiful. Her expression not only evokes a potent come-hither sexual promise, but more importantly, pure delight.

The music comes up. The song is deliberately silly (unafraid to rhyme “Barbarella” and “psychedella”) but quite catchy, celebrating the film’s title character’s sex appeal in a way that is far more joyful than crass. Though the film is based on a French comic book, it’s geared to an American audience, so before we hear her name (already legendary across the ocean), the singer compares her to our more familiar Wonder Woman.

Fonda/Barbarella strips off her space suit. It’s a sectional outfit revealing her progressively, teasingly. She is completely naked beneath. The animated titles escape the seams of the garment like venting gasses, swirling around her, protecting her immodestly. Except when they don’t. They keep trying to obscure, but she is happy to reveal. And the wantonness is now more than just promise; she expresses ongoing sexual pleasure (perhaps the caress of the letters?). Finally, wholly naked, she presses a button, tumbles down the luxurious furs, and she clearly is sated.

It’s one of the greatest stripteases in film history.

The next four minutes aren’t half bad either. The dialogue is witty and provides a lot of narrative context without excessive exposition. Barbarella immediately gets a call on her video screen from Claude Dauphin as the President of Earth. Their greet each other by saying “Love,” in what is clearly a political party’s salute.

Barbarella: “Just a minute. I’ll slip something on.”

President: “Don’t trouble yourself, this is an affair of state.”

In short order we learn that Barbarella is a secret agent in a future so perfectly utopian and groovy that she is rendered childlike in her naivete. She is assigned the mission to find an evil scientist named Durand Durand (yeah, that’s where the ’80s band got their name from) and stop him from supplying weapons to primitive peoples and threatening to disrupt the proper social order.

Barbarella (Jane Fonda) strikes a dangerous pose. Paramount Pictures, 1968.

Barbarella: “Weapon? Why would anyone want to invent a weapon?…I mean the universe was pacified centuries ago.”

President: “What we know of it…We know nothing of Tau Ceti.”

Barbarella: “You mean they can still be living in a primitive state of neurotic irresponsibility?”

Sweet Barbarella seems only vaguely familiar with the concept of secrets (yeah, I know, she’s supposed to be a “secret agent,” but whatever) and can’t even say the word “war,” but instead babbles absurd multisyllabic euphemisms like “archaic insecurity” and “selfish competition.”

We’re now nine minutes into the film. After this point, there’s not a single Goddamn scene in the film that follows that compares, either in its sexiness, warmth of performances, generosity of humor, playful satire or technical achievement.

So why watch the remaining one and half hours?

I can think of three reasons:

1) The wonderfully creative and over-the-top costumes. Especially Fonda’s, who goes through a wide variety because since she’s constantly undressing, she is therefore constantly redressing.

2) The sets and props, which are even more impressively inventive than the costumes. I especially liked the aforementioned fur lined cock pit, the ice craft, the bird-shaped bird-cage that is the size of a small bus- well, the list goes on. Though the film showed little interest in evoking the title-character as she was presented in Jean-Claude Forest‘s comic strip, they did hire Forest as a consultant on the visuals. As wrote Graeme Clark: “[T]he film-makers’ maxim seems to have been, if it looks cool, if it looks weird, then put it onscreen.” And Gary Morris wrote, “[G]audy, colorful sets, looks like it was shot in the bowels of the Playboy mansion — especially our heroine’s spaceship, with its fur-lined walls that reek of ’60s softcore chic.”

3.) Maybe, deep down in your heart, you hate Jane Fonda, and want to just sit back, watch her flounder, and feel superior.

David Hemmings and Jane Fonda in BARBARELLA. Paramount Pictures, 1968.

Yes, Fonda has never been more beautiful, but there’s no doubt this is her career worst performance. Despite being charming in the first scene, her performance quickly degrades, as she becomes increasing wide-eyed, vacuous and cold. I have to wonder why she gets worse the farther she gets into the film. I do know it was made in France at the most important transition point in her acting and political career (her follow-up film, the same year, THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY? earned her first Oscar nomination, and by the time BARBARELLA was released, she’d embraced feminism and thrown her support behind the Native American occupation of Alcatraz Island). What I think happened is that in between takes she started listening to the babble of French intellectuals who analyzed the film’s actual content (and I should say, this is a film that shouldn’t be analyzed for content), and they revealed to her some uncomfortable things:

First, the bad guys are led by an arrogant intellectual who insidiously infiltrates and corrupts a primitive culture with the goal of undermining the larger community of peace-loving, wealthy, advanced societies. Meanwhile the good guys, also foreigners, are forced to intervene and also engage in infiltrating and saving the backward indigenous peoples through a nobler, but still newly introduced, ideology, military training and supplying advanced weapons. The good guys turn the indigenous people into a “third force” that will create a society more cooperative to the ideals of more civilized foreign powers. The overarching message is that if you want to preserve universal peace, start a proxy war. It’s almost Robert Heinlein-esque in the way the heroes are “forced” into engaging in foreign interventions. In other words, the movie is pro- the kind of Third Phase Imperialism that led both the USA and the USSR into the Vietnam conflict.

Ugo Tognazzi plays Mark Hand, the heroic Catchman, the guy who introduces Barbarella to the wonders of really good primitive sex. But he also spends most of his day using corporal punishment to discipline nasty, unsupervised, disrespectful children. He then rounds them up so they can be properly indoctrinated into their responsibilities to society. In other words, BARBARELLA the movie hates the youth culture.

And it didn’t like homosexuals much either.

Women are completely objectified, and the heroine is an utter bimbo (which the comic-book heroine was not). Though she does heroic things, she doesn’t have an idea in her head or a goal worth pursuing that wasn’t planted there by an older, dominant male. Also, after arriving on the planet, almost all the “sexy” scenes concern her being captured and tortured. In other words, the movie is amazingly misogynistic right at the dawn of American feminism.

Also, I think even French intellectuals probably thought that director (Fonda’s then-husband) Roger Vadim, was a sleazy creep who was ruining her career with films like this. Vadim’s life reflected the films bizzaro sexual anti-liberation. He was a serial husband with a penchant for woman barely more than half his age and made a habit of trading eachwoman in as soon as responsibility reared its ugly head. Prior to Fonda was Brigitte Bardot (probably the inspiration for the comic book Barabarella in the first place), who was 15 to his 22 and whom he drove to several suicide attempts before their divorce. He left Bardot for the more age- appropriate Annette Stroyberg, but then abandoned her with a two-year-old child for Catherine Deneuve who was 17 to his 33. He was already involved with Fonda during that third marriage – when Fonda and Vadim first met she was 18 to his 27 -and when Vadim abandoned Deneuve, with their two-month-old child, to move in with Fonda she was 26 to his 35. The two would separate not long after BARBARELLA, leaving yet another child too young to walk. During that separation he would get involved with Catherine Schneider who was 26 to his now-44. There would be another two marriages after that.

Fonda would eventually disown the film. At the San Francisco Film Festival in 1994, she was asked “Where was her head?”

“I don’t know – up my armpit, I guess,” she replied. “We all make mistakes. In my case, I keep getting my nose rubbed them.”

Worse still, Fonda turned down the role of Bonnie in BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967) to do this stinker. Faye Dunaway eventually got that role, and an Oscar nomination. Fonda should’ve listened to Virna Lisi. When Lisi was told to play the part of Barbarella, she terminated her contract with United Artists and returned to Italy.

Jane Fonda changes costumes again as BARBARELLA. Paramount Pictures, 1968.

Episodic in the same way J.R.R. Tolkien’s work was, BARBARELLA lacked the master’s flair for the actual episodes, as well as being completely lacking in forward momentum. It displayed none of Tolkien’s warmth or affection for his characters, and notably Tolkien’s much-maligned female characterization was far better than what we see in this film with a higher percentage of prominent female roles. It wasn’t even close to Tolkien’s capacity to pull the divergent threads of plot into a meaningful climax.

BARBARELLA was panned in its day but has grown into a cult classic. Today, many critics are generous towards it because of its camp value, of which there is a great deal (It’s listed with the “Top 100 Most Amusingly Bad Movies Ever Made” in THE OFFICIAL RAZZIE MOVIE GUIDE), but I can’t help but be put off when watching a film that contains much to snicker about, but when it tries to tell an intentional joke, it generally falls terribly flat. Forest’s original comic book was fun, and the movie’s original script was by the great Terry Southern, but later critics seem unanimous that Vadim was more interested in his sexual obsessions than Forest’s swashbuckling adventurism or Southern’s omni-directional satire. As a result, no one in the cast seemed to be having any fun, and lines that really should’ve been been amusing come off stale:

Barbarella: “Make love [in a manner that involves actual physical contact]? But no one’s done that for hundreds of centuries!”

“This is much too poetic a way to die!”

“A good many dramatic situations begin with screaming!”

Mark Hand: “Are you typical of Earth women?”

Barbarella in a revealing costume made all the more so because it was shredded: “I’m about average.”

Pygar the angel (John Phillip Law, who if anything, a worse actor than Fonda in this movie):

“An angel does not make love, an angel is love.”

“But you’re soft and warm! We’re told that Earth beings are cold.”

And explaining why he saved the evil queen who tortured him: “An angel has no memory.”

Pygar the angel (John Phillip Law) gives Barbarella (Jane Fonda) a ride. Paramount Pictures, 1968.

I will credit one cast member with carrying on like a true soldier. David Hemmings, in an underwritten part as the inept freedom fighter Dildano, was quite good. He offered some hints of what this film could’ve been.

Also very fine was a captivating soundtrack by Bob Crewe and Charles Fox performed by The Glitterhouse which featured Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour.

Vadim wanted to do a sequel to BARBARELLA, but that dream died with his marriage to Fonda. He then talked about a remake right up to his death, toying with leading ladies like Drew Barrymore. Other directors have expressed interest in the remake project, notably Robert Rodriguez.

In closing, I would like to recommend an exceptionally sophisticated homage to this really dumb film. CQ (2001) written and directed by Roman Coppola (son of Francis Ford) takes us back to Paris of the ‘60s where a young American filmmaker, Paul (Jeremy Davies), is trying to made personal art film/love letter to his girlfriend Marlene (Elodie Bouchez) but all that the honest camera can do is document her depression and resentments. So he gets a job assisting the director of an a cheesy sci-fi that is clearly a better version of BARBARELLA. That film’s director, played by Gerard Depardieu, is turning the project into a complete train wreck because he can’t come up with an ending, but really, can’t cope with the fact that the fantasy of revolution and liberty he creates on film will never translate to the real world. Paul gets drawn into the director’s lunacy through his growing infatuation with the film’s sexy star, played by Angela Lindvall, who remains the same impossible ideal of sexuality and liberty even when Depardieu’s camera is not rolling.

Robert Murphy is 47 years old and lives in New York City. Formerly employed, he now has plenty of time to write about movies and play with his cats.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Talking Taboo-La-La, Tura Satana, Travel, Truckin’ and The Rapture with the Beautiful “Barbilicious” Hays of Blast-Off Burlesque

Posted on: May 18th, 2011 By:

ATLRetro wishes Blast-Off Burlesque would put on a few more full shows— these seven delectable dolls and one groovy guy are way too much clever and creative to be on stage just twice a year now and we miss them at the Silver Scream Spookshow. But this talented ensemble is thankfully tiding Atlanta over with Taboo-La-La, a sexy vintage movie series with extras, at the Plaza Theatre. They kicked off with SHOWGIRLS in March, but this month’s show on Saturday May 21 is even more of a special treat as they present a rare chance to see exploitation classic FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! on the big screen (read ATLRetro’s exclusive review by Mark Arson here). Of course, it’s a Blast-Off production, so that’s just the tip of the fun from Tura Satana lookalike, beefcake boy and all-girls arm-wrestling contests to a shrine to recently deceased B-movie siren Satana and a silent art auction fundraiser for a documentary celebrating her life.

Dickie Van Dyke and Barbilicious. Photo credit: Derek Jackson.

To find out more, ATLRetro asked Barb Hays, aka Barbilicious, for a sneak peek behind the naughty plans and got her to spill a few sexy secrets. If you’ve been to a Blast-Off Burlesque performance—and shame on you, if you haven’t—you know each has a unique personality. For Barbilicious, it’s her big smile and a certain mischievious glint in her eyes that’s likely to grab your attention first. She’s the wacky comedienne who adds that extra “oh, my,” whether in an ensemble dance sketch where everyone is dressed in banana suits or steering a giant plastic bubble around stage in homage to Jane Fonda as Barbarella in the company’s Sci-Fi-A-Go-Go show last year.

 

Barb also drops a few tantalizing hints about future happenings involving an all-Blast-Off photo shoot next week, Blast-Off’s September show, her punk band LUST and the debut of Burt and the Bandits, her newest collaboration with the multitalented Jon Waterhouse (read ATLRetro’s profile of Jon here), at the East Atlanta Beer Festival also this Saturday.

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