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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30 Days of The Plaza, Day 24: It’s No Holds Barred at the Plaza When Blast-Off Burlesque Goes to Prison with a Taboo-La-La Screening of Wendy O. Williams Cult Classic REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS

Posted on: Jul 26th, 2012 By:

By Melanie Magnifique
Contributing Writer

REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS (1986); Dir: Tom DeSimone; Starring Wendy O Williams, Sybil Danning, Linda Carol, Pat Ast; Taboo-La-La Series hosted by Blast-Off  Burlesque at Plaza Theatre, Sat. July 28; 10 PM; arrive early for a sexy live stage show courtesy of Blast-Off Burlesque, and special guests Vanity’s UnCanney and Poly Sorbate; Also riots, chainsaws, and pillow fights , a Wendy O. Williams and Reform School Girls Costume Contest and prizes from  Libertine; age 18 & over only; trailer here.

Blast-Off Burlesque will host REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS at the Plaza Theatre this Saturday July 28, as part of its “Taboo-La-La” film series. The film, which stars Wendy O. Williams of punk band The Plasmatics fame, is a satire of the women in prison film genre and intentionally features many of its more provocative elements, such as shower scenes, fight scenes and implied sexual relationships between inmates and authority figures in exchange for favoritism. Austrian-born Hollywood actress Sybil Danning plays the warden, and Pat Ast rounds out the cast as sadistic prison guard Edna.

As the story plays out, Reform School becomes a microcosmic version of society in which women are stripped of their dignity, terrorized, punished for and enslaved over their sexuality, and forced to lie to protect their captors. The only compassionate ally that the inmates have is the institution’s therapist, played by Charlotte McGinnis. Despite her best efforts, however, the crimes of mistreatment against the inmates finally spark an uprising which ends with a real bang.

Wendy O. Williams plays inmate Charlie Chambliss in REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS. New World Pictures, 1986

Blast Off’s own Dickie Van Dyke says this weekend’s salute to Wendy O is timely. “Wendy is the patron saint of women who whoop ass,” (s)he pointed out the other night at rehearsal. Indeed, it seems that women everywhere could use some inspiration in the whoop-ass department. The global climate towards us these days has many of us shaking our heads in disbelief, and, as Dickie says, “Decades after women’s lib, we still do not have total control over our bodies, we still battle to overcome the glass ceiling, lack of respect… and PMS! Apparently we have to kick everybody’s ass while wearing a bra and thong before our voices are heard. If that is the way the game is played, so be it. Wendy O will be our MVP!”

Other members of Blast-Off agree that the timing is just right for this show. Barbalicious says, “It’s time for us to rock out, and after spending some quality time in the ’60’s and ’70s with Russ Meyer, John Waters and Pam Grier, the ’80s seemed like a great place to continue our big-haired hijinks, but with much less clothes, because you know in reform school, you only need to wear your underwear. It’s also summer, and we’re hot.” She adds that the movie itself will be a blast, saying, “REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS is a ridiculously fun camp classic. All the classic women in prison elements are in place: shower scenes, food fights, forbidden romance, branding and other tortures, but then you add in the Wendy-O-Williams factor and it becomes just that much more surreal. Wendy-O is one of the hardest working women in rock and roll history. She is as hardcore as it gets; no female performer has or will ever come close her badassness. She beats the hell out of everyone in this movie. Those who are not familiar with her, need to be. Those who remember what the power of real rock and roll was about need to pay tribute.”

Taboo-La-La has been a wildly popular film series for Blast-Off at the Plaza Theatre. Previous films have included SHOWGIRLS, FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! , FEMALE TROUBLE and BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS. Barbalicious says that its main purpose is to examine cultural taboos in film, but adds with a wink, “It’s really just an excuse for us to throw an amazing party.”

Festivities will begin at 9 p.m. DJ Westwood-A-GoGo will be spinning tunes in the lobby, where patrons can enjoy complimentary cocktails and mingle before the show begins. Once seated, the audience will be treated to a riotous performance by Blast-Off Burlesque, with guest performers Poly Sorbate and Vanity’s Uncanney. Audience members are encouraged to enter a costume contest to win prizes provided by Libertine. Tickets are $10, and are available through Plaza Theatre’s box office and at www.plazaatlanta.com.

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Taboo La-La! Blast-Off Burlesque Stirs Up Some FEMALE TROUBLE, John Waters Style, At The Plaza This Saturday!

Posted on: Nov 16th, 2011 By:

By Melanie Magnifique
Contributing Blogger

FEMALE TROUBLE (1974); Dir: John Waters; Writer: John Waters; Starring Divine, Mink Stole, Edith Massey; Taboo-La-La Series hosted by Blast-Off  Burlesque at Plaza Theatre, Sat. July 23; 10 PM; free makeup, meatball sandwiches (while supplies last), costume contest, Filthy Fashion makeovers with prizes from Libertine! Special guests include Patricia Lopez, Poly Sorbate, Babydoll & Baltimore’s own Elle Devene; age 18 & over only; trailer here.

This Saturday night, Blast-Off Burlesque will serve up a veritable cornucopia of camp while hosting John Waters dark comedy, FEMALE TROUBLE at the Plaza Theatre as part of their sin-sational new cinema series—Taboo La-La! Before viewing the film in its original 35mm format, moviegoers will be able to compete for fantastic prizes in costume and makeover contests, as well as enjoy performances by Blast-Off and their very special guests, Patricia Lopez, Poly Sorbate, Babydoll and Baltimore’s own Elle Devene.

Released in 1974, FEMALE TROUBLE tells the story of Dawn Davenport (played by infamous drag queen, Divine), a bratty bad-girl who lives a hard-knock life of juvenile delinquency, experiencing sexual assault, subsequent single motherhood, employment in the sex industry, obsession with fame and victimization by sensationalists masquerading as artists. Did I mention that it’s rated NC-17?

Blast-Off’s Co-founder (and ATLRetro Kool Kat), Barb Hays, says the film’s caustic content fits right in with the sprit of Taboo La-La. “You know, the Plaza Theatre used to show adult films, so we decided that we would host a series which paid homage to its roots,” she explains. “They can’t show X-rated stuff anymore, but there’s plenty of great films out there which push the boundaries of societal taboo as decreed by the MPAA.”

Melanie Magnifique. Photo credit: March Turnley

Hays adds that now is a crucial time to support the Plaza Theatre. This week Plaza Owners Jonathan and Gayle Rej announced that they are looking for a buyer forAtlanta’s oldest cinema, adding that they do not wish to close, and are seeking individuals or organizations which might preserve the landmark theater as a historical site. Since purchasing the theater in 2006, the Rejs have focused on event-centered films with live audience-interactive elements, including Splatter Cinema, the Silver Scream Spookshow, Flicks & Giggles, Summer Camp, Art Opening and a Movie and Taboo-La-La! In 2009, the Plaza Theatre received nonprofit status.

Supporting the Plaza Theatre is a rare chance to do something special for this community and gifts of all sizes will make a big difference. The Plaza Theatre Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization and all gifts are tax  deductible. All funds generated will be used toward restoration, furnishings, equipment, operations and community initiatives for The Plaza Theatre.

Saturday’s events kick-off at 10 p.m., and the first 50 people in the door will receive free makeup! They can also eat meatball sandwiches (while supplies last), and the most beautiful, glamorous audience member in the costume contest will win a basket of makeup! The winner of the Filthy Fashion makeovers will win prizes from Libertine!

Are you willing to die for Art? As Dawn Davenport says, “Being executed will make you famous, like winning an academy award.” Put on your biggest hair and your cha-cha heels! The bad girls are back in town!

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Vintage Vacation: Road Trips from Hell with Blast-Off Burlesque, Part 1: Blizzard in North Carolina

Posted on: Sep 8th, 2011 By:

With Blast-Off Burlesque’s World Tour about to take off this weekend at 7 Stages (if you haven’t bought tickets yet, book ‘em here,! Fri at 9 p.m., and Sat at 7:30 p.m. & 10:30 p.m.), we asked those gorgeous gals and guys about their craziest real-life travel experiences. And did they have some stories to tell—from wicked weather to dodgy directions.

In the first of this three-part series, the entire Blast-Off gang braves a blizzard but our intrepid entertainers know the show must go on…

In January 2009, Blast-Off was heading to Asheville to put on two nights of a “best of” show at North Carolina Stage Company. We were psyched about it, because it was the first time we’d really taken the show on the road, rather than traveling to guest in other folks’ shows.

As the date approached, we kept an eye on the weather. It was January, after all. And as luck would have it, a snow – and ice – storm synched up with our travel plans. We were planning on heading up in two groups, one on Thursday evening and one Friday. The storm had a similar plan of attack.

Sadie Hawkins. Photo courtesy of Sadie Hawkins.

Barbilicious and Dickie Van Dyke were first to make the journey from Atlanta to North Carolina. They made it just ahead of the storm. Sadie Hawkins had been in Washington, DC for her day job. It was snowing there, too, and she was playing the weather delay game with Delta. Finally, a flight got through, and she made it home just as Atlanta’s weather started to get exciting. She was scheduled to drive up to Asheville with her partner – and Blast-Off’s sound man – Bryant. The goings were slow, but they made it up there in the wee hours.

Now, when team Blast-Off goes to Asheville, we stay in a cabin in the woods. Seriously. Disastrid’s mother has a rustic place at the base of a mountain, off of a curvy road and next to a babbling creek. It’s remote enough that there’s no cell service. It has power and water – and a landline phone.

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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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