December 7, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Up, up and away

By |2018-03-21T18:54:17+01:00March 31st, 2013|"Critics Notebook"|
Before Madonna and Lady Gaga, Jane Fonda as a space heroine.

fter the hormonally agreeable French director Roger Vadim wrapped it up with Brigitte Bardot — they dated from the time she was 15 — and Catherine Deneuve —18 when they met — he somehow fished out an American actress with Bardot’s erotic panache and Deneuve’s acting talent. She was Henry Fonda’s daughter Jane. The female Fonda had also met Vadim as a teen, no surprise, but by the time they moved in together in 1963 Vadim was 37 and Jane an “ancient” 26.

Vadim, a Ukrainian immigrant born to a Russian father and a French mother, was bright, charming, and above all known as ready, willing and able to make movies to celebrate his girlfriends. He did it with Bardot in the 1956 “Et Dieu… créa la femme” (“And God Created Women”) and with less fuss for Deneuve, whose role in Le Vice et la Vertu (“Vice and Virtue”) gave her enough film time to get herself noticed.

So what to do with Jane?

The answer, “Barbarella,” was typically Vadimish. If Bardot could be a teen sex kitten and Deneuve a character from a Marquis de Sade riff, then Fonda could certainly be an outer space seductress who at times looked like Madonna and Lady Gaga before they were in the conceptual phase.

“Barbarella” was first-ever literal space cadet movie (at least with a girl in charge). See it to believe.

In a nutshell, an emancipated super heroine takes to the outer fringed of the galaxy to stop villain Durand-Durand (Milo O’Shea). What’s about to happen is contained in the movie’s tagline: “Who seduces an angel? Who strips in space? Who conveys love by hand? Who gives up the pill? Who takes sex to outer space? Who’s the girl of the 21st century? Who nearly dies of pleasure?”

You guessed it, it’s Queen of the Galaxy Jane, a heroic pleasure unit. But the farce isn’t Jane alone. Even mime king Marcel Marceau makes an appearance as Professor Ping. When was it made? When else but 1968, the year in which culture and politics took an unusual hike in the woods and somehow got the last laugh — together.

Weird girls take different forms. Ask Abel Ferrara. His 1995 “The Addiction” remains among the most terrifying, intelligent, outrageous, and eccentric vampire ever made, and one that would wither today’s tamer odysseys. Lili Taylor is New York anthropology grad student Kathleen Conklin. Bitten by vampy vampire Casanova (Annabella Sciorra) in a New York alcove, her intellectually-propelled life suddenly veers into the netherworld of blood lust. Christopher Walken, mixing gags and snarls, does his thing as elder statesman vamp, but it’s Taylor, by turn bewildered, exhausted, and insatiable, who steals the show.

This is as much a tract about guilt, mass murder, and sexual desire as it is a camp treatise on vampires. Blood, for Conklin, is no different than drugs: an addiction. The climactic blood orgy is proto-pornography disguised as horror. Only Ferrara would tackle this medusa, let alone see it through. Ferrara friend Nicholas St. John wrote the movie, along with adult non-classic “Nine Lives of a Wet Pussy” 20 years before. Anatomy aside, nine lives are hardly enough here.

No pussies on “Runaway Train” (1985), an insomnia-averse sleeper directed by a Russian with a Japanese screenplay and perfectly suited to gritty Jon Voight — now mentioned (if at all) as Angelina Jolie’s estranged father. Two escaped maximum-security inmates (Voight is Oscar; Eric Roberts is Buck) and a woman conductor (Sara; Rebecca De Mornay) are trapped on an otherwise deserted, breakshot runaway train hurtling through Alaska.

Voight is Voight: ruthless; Roberts is the second man: vulnerable and compliant; De Mornay is… a girlie afterthought.

It’s easy enough to bash testosterone-laden flicks, but this one is fierce, smart, and uses train, weather, and character interplay to existential effect. People are as out of control as the machine they ride.

Though Ryuzo Kikushima is credited with the script, the idea came from Akira Kurosawa’s — he of “Rashômon,” the 1950 classic. Moscow-born Andrei Konchalovsky directed, in the days before he was reduced to making movies like the 2010 “Nutcracker in 3D.”

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