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'Barbarella' and beyond

Jane Fonda’s goofy intergalactic romp (now on Blu-ray) has a kindred spirit in the sweet, underrated indie ”CQ”

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Jane Fonda has been nominated for seven Oscars and won two of them. Needless to say, you don’t get a résumé like that without having pretty sound instincts. But those instincts took a holiday for a brief moment in the late ’60s when Fonda turned down both Bonnie and Clyde and Rosemary’s Baby to star in Barbarella (1968, PG, 1 hr., 38 mins.). Directed by her then husband, Roger Vadim, Barbarella left critics with their jaws in their laps. The New York Times‘ Renata Adler called it a ”special kind of mess.” She wasn’t wrong. The film is a silly intergalactic bonbon about a sexed-up space adventuress in the year 40000 tasked with saving the galaxy from a war-hungry scientist who’s masterminded a weapon that threatens centuries of peace and love. But here’s the thing: Barbarella is my kind of mess. And I’m not alone. Over the years, the futuristic fantasia has become a camp classic — a sort of swinging-’60s Alice in Wonderland with lots of half-baked jokes about drugs, free love, and military interventionism. And while the trippy-dippy screenplay from Vadim and Terry Southern is so thin you could roll a joint with it, Barbarella remains one of the grooviest-looking films you’ll ever lay your eyes on, especially in the breathtaking new Blu-ray edition. The foxy Fonda hopscotches from one bizarre space locale to another, getting pawed by horny aliens while coyly twirling her hair and modeling a kinky array of vinyl go-go boots, see-through Lucite bustiers, and high-tech weapons that look like they were stolen from Boba Fett. Along the way, she gets pulled on a sled by a manta ray, flies on the back of a blind bare-chested angel, and gets attacked by both samurai cavemen and marching porcelain dolls with razor-sharp metal teeth. Still, the highlight of the film has to be its infamous opening-credits sequence, where Fonda performs a full-monty zero-gravity striptease in her shag-carpeted pink spaceship as her theme song kicks in: Barbarella, psychedella, there’s a kinda cockle shell about you… (Whatever the hell that means.) You’d be hard-pressed to find a more ridiculous (or for Fonda, more embarrassing) moment in cinema over the past 50 years. But I guarantee that you’ll never forget it. Obviously Mike Myers didn’t — he lifted whole chunks of Barbarella for his retro-obsessed Austin Powers flicks. And let’s not overlook Simon Le Bon & Co., who named their Brit pop band after one of the film’s main characters, Milo O’Shea’s Durand-Durand.

My favorite homage to the film, though, is without a doubt Roman Coppola’s CQ (2002, R, 1 hr., 28 mins.), a loving tongue-in-cheek ode to the ’60s era of kitschy Eurotrash filmmaking. More or less dismissed as a trifle when it came out, CQ is now available to stream on Netflix instant viewing, and it’s worth watching as part of a giddy mod double feature with Fonda’s film. Jeremy Davies stars as an arty American expat in Paris circa 1969 who stumbles into the director’s chair of a disastrous sci-fi production called Codename: Dragonfly. The movie-within-a-movie features Angela Lindvall as a willowy femme fatale in a cream-colored jumpsuit not unlike you-know-who, Jason Schwartzman as a hilariously egomaniacal playboy auteur, and Giancarlo Giannini as a blustery Italian producer who bears more than a passing resemblance to Barbarella‘s own producer, Dino De Laurentiis. Davies’ Paul inherits this celluloid fiasco and has to make sense of it all while falling for his leading lady. CQ‘s sets are dime-store cheap, but Coppola (the son of Francis) serves up a note-perfect tribute to a long-gone period, when whimsical Pop-art continental capers like Modesty Blaise and Danger: Diabolik reigned. Coppola’s film is heartfelt and sincere, not to mention stylish as all get-out. Neither Barbarella nor CQ is what you — or anyone, really — would call a great movie. But damn, they look amazing.

Sadly, neither film has much in the way of EXTRAS. If you’re looking for any sort of supplements for CQ, you won’t find them on Netflix. You’ll have to seek out the DVD, which features a slew of goodies, including a terrific commentary with Coppola and a closer listen to the band Mellow’s awesome acid-rock soundtrack. As for the Barbarella Blu-ray, the only bonus tidbit is the original trailer, which bills its heroine as a ”five-star, double-rated astronavigatrix” whose ”top secret mission is a real wingdinger.” Yup, I’d say that pretty much sums it up. Barbarella: B CQ: B+