Film review: Barbarella @ Dukes After Dark 24/10/14

Hailing from an aesthetically beautiful but mentally torturing town in Essex, the only cinema within a travellable distance was an Odeon a few towns along. With an unambitious film selection it was also no surprise for your chosen film to be regularly interrupted by some blotchy teenager trying to take his desperate romance to Phase Two. The floor never wanted your feet to leave it and (as I learnt from a friend who was employed there) they orchestrated a modern take on the practice of slave labour. The only non-uniform screening that took place in the thirteen years I lived in that twisted town was a one-off showing of the Blur documentary No Distance Left To Run. I relished the opportunity to catch a film originating from outside of Hollywood on the big screen and begged that it would become a regular occurrence. Obviously my fantasies never became reality and the din of commercial filming plagued that cinema and probably will for eternity. It’s fair to say that this disappointment almost dulled my fiery passion for the ever-expanding world of cinema, having to watch the independent films I preferred on a laptop screen put me at a loss with the overall beauty of the silver screen.

Within three days of moving to Brighton last year the Duke of York’s reinvigorated cinema attendence as a favoured pastime of mine with a screening of Wim Wender’s Wings of Desire consequentially opening up the profound and highly intellectual domain of German New Wave Cinema. From then on, over the past year, I have been treated to the chilling, existential science fiction of Tarkovsky’s Solaris, the outrageous horror of Dario Argento’s Suspiria and Australia’s finest exploitation offer Wake in Fright, the perfect craft and acting of Paul Thomas-Anderson’s The Master, the hokey apocalypse of a Mad Max double bill and many more highly inspirational screenings. I can honestly put my hands up and say I couldn’t have asked for more from the Duke of York’s and Duke’s at Komedia since I’ve moved to Brighton. The Duke’s institution has opened up a hundred cinematic avenues for me to follow and has not only encouraged but thrown me deep into the depths of cinephilia. Needless to say I feel that my relationship with the Duke’s is ‘star-crossed’.

The most recent of the Duke of York’s exploits was a screening of the psychedelic 60’s sci-fi classic Barbarella. Screened by Duke’s After Dark (one of the many regular cult screening events) Barbarella is trashy and corny but for all the right reasons. Jane Fonda shines as the intergalactic doll of many a space traveller’s dreams.  Set in an imaginary future, Fonda’s Barbarella excudes sheer charisma and seduction while remaining humourous.  Barbarella has only experienced the Earth way of making love – in this case the consuming of ‘exaltation transference pills’ and the placing of two lover’s palms together.  The scene when Mark Hand offers Barbarella actual sexual intercourse then cuts to her lying in Hand’s bed purring in ecstasy.  This scene is a perfect mixture of comedy and charm that exemplifies the tone of the film.

The set and costume designs (Fonda’s costumes being designed by Paco Rabanne) are truly delightful. They are a flawless expression of the colourful, hazy atmosphere of what a 60’s sci-fi should be like and bring a trippy and fantastical element which a lot of retro sci-fi ignores. The acting is immaculate, with a surprise apperance from David Hemmings (the protagonist in Michelangelo Antonioni’s equally as hazy 60’s thriller Blow Up), and the dialogue engaging whilst also being ridiculous at times, a very hard niche for screenwriters to fill. In conclusion, Barbarella demonstrates all the qualities of a brilliant B-movie but with a Hollywood budget and a lot of sex appeal and charm.

Reviewed by Tom Johnson at Duke of York’s Picturehouse as part of Duke’s After Dark

The Verse Staff

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