I remember being in my early teens and watching Jane Fonda pretend to float around in zero gravity by rolling around on a floor printed to look like the interior of a 1960s pimp’s UFO, and my young nerdy self was … aroused. There was something about seeing the starlet strip out of a spacesuit that spoke to me on a very primal and cerebral level. She was the perfect mixture of geekiness and sex appeal, and I loved her, or moreso lusted after her. Barbarella had such an “impact” on me that, when I was writing about Sheila Marcello’s astronaut pinups not too long ago, it inspired me to rewatch the saucy sci-fi odyssey.
While American audiences might have been more familiar with Star Trek’s brand of space vixens, Barbarella is more iconic in terms of sex appeal, taking pop-cultural flight from French comic books to American cult cinema and even tattoos. In the comics, Barbarella is a sexually emancipated woman of the sixties. With her blonde bouffant and big blue eyes, she travels across the galaxy in search of adventure, often finding it in spades with some intergalactic sex on the side. In the film, her figure became even more hypersexualized, so it’s no wonder that she made such an impression on my adolescent self almost two decade ago.
When powerhouse Italian producer Dino De Laurentis sought to bring the comics to the big screen in 1968, he didn’t have to change much to have a hit on his hands. Director Roger Vadim, a fan of science fiction comics, cast his wife, up-and-comer Fonda in the title role. With Terry Southern of Dr. Strangelove fame on the script, Barbarella couldn’t have been anything but a box office smash — in the UK, the film was second only to Disney’s The Jungle Book.
It’s not just the interstellar intercourse that makes Barbarella a cult favorite for tattooists and collectors alike. Beyond the film’s opening sequence, Fonda strikes numerous poses throughout the movie that will be immediately recognized by connoisseurs of the pinup tradition. With her big hair, brazen sexuality, and mod-style leotards (who can forget that chainmail bikini and shredded white bodysuit?), Barbarella is a feminist icon and a feminine ideal rolled into one, which explains her enduring international popularity half a century after she first graced the silver screen.
Nothing illustrates how Barbarella captured the hearts and libidos of so many people quite as well as the body art inspired by her figure. Numerous individuals have gotten portraits of Fonda as the bodacious space adventuress, and several tattooists out there, like Marcello, have borrowed her fashion and applied it to their pinups.
Barbarella might be nearly 50 years old, but as all of the body art modeled on her shows, her sexuality still holds sway over viewers today, and probably will continue to do so until we all start making love among the stars ourselves. Until then, we can all just keep rewatching Fonda pretend to float around and getting tattoos in her image.