A Five-Star Double Rated Astral Navigatrix, Jean-Claude Forest’s adult comic character Barbarella first entered orbit in 1962, a rare liberated woman flying solo in the field of science fiction adventure, her original expeditions published over the following sixteen years in French and numerous international editions but most famously adapted to the medium of film, directed by Roger Vadim and starring Walk on the Wild Side‘s Jane Fonda in the title role.
A French-Italian co-production from the studios of Dino De Laurentiis, Barbarella was a film of visual daring, wild imagination and reckless abandon, with production design by Waterloo‘s Mario Garbuglia, costumes by Paco Rabanne, a special effects team including Dune‘s Carlo Rambaldi, creating the ship Alpha 7 and Sogo, City of Night, home to the Great Tyrant and her subjects, with Forest himself acting as an artistic consultant.
Rereleased in the wake of Star Wars but heavily cut as Barbarella: Queen of the Galaxy and becoming a staple of late night television through the eighties, the original DVD release was complete but unrestored, and while the current Blu-ray release is better it offers the bare minimum for a dazzling, influential and hugely entertaining film which deserves far more in terms of restoration and supplementary material exploring the character, production, design, effects and music, its reception and reputation, a time capsule capturing both the future and the past.
This ongoing omission is only partially addressed by the release of Barbarella Forever! comprising a quarter hour of behind-the-scenes footage originally shot by cinematographer Umberto Galeassi in Rome in 1967 under the title Barbarella City and listed as the first credit of Warrior’s Gate director Paul Joyce, featuring rehearsals, make up tests and shots of Fonda and Vadim at rest and play in villa they shared during production with Forest and John Philip Law who played Pygar.
The lack of available material making the sight of Jane Fonda preparing lunch with her teased Barbarella hair seem like an audience with an interplanetary icon in an unlikely context, to describe Barbarella Forever! as a documentary is something of a reach, with little commentary provided other than a handful of captions and no structure to the assembled footage, essentially a promotional filler rather than anything of substance and insight.
Barbarella Forever! presumably shot on what was available to the crew at the time, 16mm if not Super 8, it is grainy and offers little prospect of restoration but with the chance to properly observe costumes and makeup previously only seen in background and a brief glimpse of the full-size set of the Labyrinth, extended through forced perspective directly into the scale miniature of Sogo, it is still a rare opportunity not to be missed even if it is ultimately a disappointing one, a hint of what should be rather than providing the desired comprehensive coverage of a colourful classic of sixties cinema.
Barbarella Forever! will be streaming on Arrow from Friday 17th March