Friday, March 01, 2013


Barbarella leads off my 1960's movie poster wall calendar for March. This wacky, sexy sci-fi comic strip classic directed by Roger Vadim and starring Jane Fonda (the same one who was so vocal about Seth MacFarlane's boob song at the Oscars), was released less than a month before the MPAA had enacted its initial G-M-R-X rating system in November 1968. So, with no official rating attached to it-- it probably would have been given an "M," maybe an "R"-- when the movie made it to my hometown probably around six months later (that was the way things went back then) the theater owner, who had been stamping movies retroactively with his own ratings, decided to label Barbarella an "X" and enforce admissions accordingly. Of course this did nothing but increase both the mystery surrounding it and my interest in it-- being 9-10 years old I could only speculate the orgiastic behavior that movie indulged in, and oh, how I speculated.

So imagine my surprise and confusion when the movie was re-released in 1977 with a "PG"!* By the time I saw it, I was a veteran of In the Realm of the Senses and Deep Throat, both of which existed in a completely different world from that of Roger Vadim. Ever since then I can't help but chuckle about the "X" ratings that I routinely saw attached to mainstream movies back in the early days of the ratings system, before that "X" got tripled and became exclusively associated with pornography, and how far removed from reality my imaginings were from what those movies-- many of which would, like Barbarella, be re-rated with much more box-office friendly classifications-- actually had in them. (I still get a dirty thrill from the poster for The Best House in London though!)

 (*Does anyone know if there were cuts made to Barbarella before that PG rating? I've always assumed that it was essentially the same movie, but I could be wrong. And I think that PG was the first time it had been officially rated too.)



mike schlesinger said...

If memory serves, it was released with an SMA ("Suggested for Mature Audiences"), an unofficial tag that was used for adult-oriented movies in the mid-'60s prior to the ratings system. (I seem to also recall it on ROSEMARY'S BABY, for one.) It was, in essence, a PG, as no one as denied admittance.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

You're right, Mike. That "Suggested for Mature Audiences" box is visible on the bottom right-hand corner of the one-sheet pictured here. And I think you're right about ROSEMARY'S BABY having the same tag-- that one got an "R" from my local theater owner, who was apparently less worried about the devil than Jane Fonda's exposed curves.

Dusty said...

Nice post, Dennis! I can't speak to the movie being cut or not. (Is it okay if I'm honest? I can hardly sit through the thing). I can, however, speak to the wave of confusion left by the MPAA.

My example: I remember the "invention" of the PG-13 rating. This was just supposed to be a stop gag for something that was too soft for R. But did they ever really define what can pass for PG-13 and what can't? It seems like every movie is now PG-13 by default...almost as if it has a certain marketing value.

Uncle Gustav said...

The original brouhaha (HA HA!) over BARBARELLA had mostly to do with Jane's nipple and pubic hair flashed onscreen during the opening credits. And in 1968, even the side of a woman's breast could earn a movie an "X" rating. What I find hard to believe is how this relatively boring movie is now considered by some to be a "classic."

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Ray, I'm always up for a Firesign Theater reference! Thanks!

I remember being bored and disappointed when I saw it on that 1977 release too, and I've never seen it since. (I think I've seen the opening credits a few times since then, though.)

I think Barbarella's (arguable) status as a classic is attributable simply to the overuse of the term "classic" in general. I don't know if we can lay that entirely at the feet of Turner Classic Movies-- it is a word many people use to connote age, particular as a quality of distinction. (Webster's uses the phrase "historically memorable.") So in that way I suppose Barbarella would qualify, as would Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

But if "classic" is meant to suggest high quality or enduring appeal, well...