Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Barbarella

Another week, another shot to represent a chosen film.

It’s strange – Barbarella is such an aggressively gaudy visual experience even if you’re uncertain as to whether it’s a good movie or not the options for finding a best shot are abundant. And, yet, in considering which to pick I kept grasping at straws, both because that same aggressive gaudiness kept leaving me in a state of freneticism (you can’t really settle on a best-shot if you’re distracted by the baubles) and because beneath the gaudiness the film seemed too hollow for me to attribute any crushing significance to a “best” a shot.

So, in an unusual show of prudence on my part I have but a single shot to comment on.

The strongest asset of Barbarella is how messy it is in its reach, its décor and its story. At first glance this shot isn’t an especially busy one but it’s so ridiculous both in set up and execution that I couldn’t think of any other shot but this one to represent the film. The floating striptease which Fonda goes through at the beginning before we see her face is indicative of all that is Barbarella – winking, unusual, defiant and theoretically impossible – if she was floating in mid-air against a black background I’d still love this shot. But what turns this from merely a good shot to a great shot are the props.

To Barbarella’s left we espy a statue of the Moon Goddess. Its presence is not inexplicable – a symbol of femininity and fertility, it is no surprise that the supple Barbarella would have a representation of womanhood in her room. But, it’s the presence of the piece to right which asserts the bizarreness the rest of the film depends on. Why does Barbarella have a life-sized replica of Georges Seurat’s “Un dimanche après-midi à l’Ile de la Grande Jatte” in her room? It’s one of the bigger mysteries in the film for me especially since all the ideals of Seurat’s Impressionist Pointillism technique would not even support the zaniness of Barbarella. Seurat’s painting is all about deliberate brushstrokes coalescing to form a measured whole. Vadim’s film is much more spontaneous, erratic even, adhering only to the rule of anything goes.

It’s the juxtaposition that makes me like the presence of the painting and the shot so much, though. We still haven’t seen the face of this floating person, yet. The uncovering of that single pants leg points to it being a lady and that image alone of one foot uncovered is ridiculous in its own way. She floats, upturned in the air defying logic. The moon goddess observes sedately. Seurat’s painting sits placidly, and the that pulsating music is beginning. These things don’t fit, I want to argue. And Barbarella is surely anomalous. That these things don’t fit is probably the point.

(Also, I won’t lie, any shot which reminds me of Sondheim gets an immediate seal of approval for me. “Artists are so crazy” the two ladies sing of Georged while he paints this, but Georges’ craziness has nothing on this film.)

Head over to Nathaniel to see what other best-shotters made of the film.

1 comment:

Squasher88 said...

Everything you said in that opening paragraph is exactly how I felt when I was doing my post.

Interesting that we were both fascinated by that Seurat painting too. It's a peculiar art direction choice indeed.