8 February 2022
My dolls grin. Shards of light gleam off their metal teeth. Then, they attack — mouths snarling, teeth gnashing. I’d always wake up before they ripped into my flesh.
This recurring nightmare plagued me from the time I was seven until I rewatched Roger Vadim’s Barbarella in University and had an “aha” moment. I distinctly remember this film because a small boy flailing his arms stood on the seat in front of me, yelling, “Barbarella, Barbarella,” as Jane Fonda stripped from her space suit in zero gravity. It’s not all I recall. I remember laughing as Barbarella’s clothes were spit out of Durand Durand’s (Milo O’Shea) orgasmatron and laughing even more when her straight hair curled during a particularly electric sex encounter with Dildano (David Hemmings). I especially recollect The Great Tyrant (Anita Pallenberg) saying, “pretty, pretty” on repeat, because her words harkened back to my favorite film, The Wizard of Oz. Somehow, though, I blocked the nightmarish dolls with metal teeth gnawing on Barbarella’s arms and legs.
A few weeks after re-watching the film, I returned home for Easter break and asked my mom about the film. She couldn’t believe I remembered it. She had hoped I wouldn’t. “It was advertised locally as a ‘family-friendly space comedy’.”
According to my mom, second-run science fiction films weren’t out of the ordinary. She had previously taken us to see Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, and even crime flicks like Danger: Diabolik.
“Every mother in town showed up. Every seat was full. And then Jane Fonda started taking off her clothes,” she said. You could practically hear the jaws dropping as we all sank lower and lower in our seats until it looked like entire cinema was empty,” she laughed and added, “We weren’t expecting space porn.”
“No one left?”
“God no. Everyone was either frozen in shock, or too afraid that someone they knew might see them.”
“And did you,” I asked, “see anyone?”
“I didn’t notice,” she said chuckling. “I rushed out of the theater with my head down like everyone else.”
Barbarella did give me nightmares. The movie also made me laugh. Years later it remains enlightening to know that B-movies and space porn shaped my formative years. It certainly explains a lot! But I’m glad my mom didn’t haul us out of that film. I absolutely adore cheesy sexploitation films and swinging music of the sixties. While both of these inspire my “Jane Does” playlist series, it’s Vadim’s Barbarella that specifically arouses my imagination in creating the first music playlist in my series: “Jane Does Space.”