Alan Smithee Podcast 77: Barbarella (1968, Roger Vadim) / Galaxina (1980, William Sachs)

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In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast, Andrew and I run wild across the universe with a couple of loose space babes. They both start out a little cold – one of them’s made of metal – but after we shove our opinions down their throats regarding how badly their movies suck, they warm up to us plenty. It’s called “negging,” refer to your pick-up artist manual for a detailed explanation. Then, of course, I take things too far and ask Fonda if she’d tortured any POWs with the pan-and-scan version of Barbarella lately, turning the mood. Stratten also cools down a bit once she remembers she’s been dead and murdered for 30 years.

This is one of those times when our nominally “good” movie is only less worse than the “bad” one, but the pairing of these two broads was too good to resist. It’s a head-slappingly silly mistake, because Barbarella is probably one of the more infamous bombs of the 60s; a seemingly imaginative yet actually highly calculated attempt to cash in on several cultural fads of the time: sci-fi adventure, comic book camp, “free” “love” and Henry Fonda’s acting progeny. You can’t blame Dino De Laurentiis for thinking that these gimmicks would mesh together, and perhaps they would have if the story or script had anything remotely interesting about them. Terry Southern and Roger Vadim have a lot of potentially clever ideas that flitter and flame out within seconds, proving that drugs tend to hamper otherwise good writers more than they help them.

Flash Gordon is practically a masterpiece of production design and witty dialogue by comparison, to give you some idea of how badly Barbarella misfires. At least Dino learned something in the interim. Actually, Flash Gordon actually came out the same year as our second feature of the episode, Galaxina – a title inspired by Barbarella, if not the story. Or lack thereof.

Galaxina is just as vacuous and lazy in terms of actual content, but with far less talent involved. Robots learning to love is one of science fiction’s oldest tropes, so Sachs (who wrote as well as directed) wasn’t necessarily in a bind to begin with. You’d think if the star of your film was Playboy Playmate of the Year 1980 Dorothy Stratten and she’s the robot who learns to love, you kind of have your work cut out for you and can simply enjoy peppering the dialogue with double entendres and concocting sexy scenes of awkward robolove between man and machine. Yes, you’d think. Apparently Sachs felt that such material was beneath him, and basically ignores Stratten for the first half of the film while he establishes, re-establishes and re-re-establishes a trio of bumbling space jockeys in what feels like a failed pilot written by someone who couldn’t get a job on Saturday Night Live even after Lorne Michaels left.

The infuriating catch to this lack of Stratten-sleaze is that when she finally makes the scene, we don’t get so much as a side boob and the proto-Spaceballs parodies are only getting worse. The cleverest thing in the whole waste of celluloid is an alien hooker with three boobs, strongly suggesting that at least one person who worked on Total Recall has seen Galaxina. Given how clumsy and rote the predictable parody scene of Alien is, it probably wasn’t Dan O’Bannon’s idea to include an homage in kind. Who did Sachs think he was, not delivering on the tagline that in the 31st century, man finally created a machine…with feelings!(?) This bozo wrote and directed The Incredible Melting Man. If you’re going to make an exploitation film, know your audience.

Galaxina “introduces” Dorothy Stratten as per the opening credits, even though she’d starred in the softcore lesbian erotic thriller Autumn Born, a film which undoubtedly featured her in the nude and was probably better written as well. Stratten belongs to that unfortunate club of actors and actresses more famous in death than life, and will go down in movie history only for this and Star 80 – the 1983 biopic depicting her murder, in which she’s played by Muriel Hemingway. Pairing that with Galaxina as the good-movie counterpoint would’ve been smart, but hey, we’re not all that smart sometimes.

NEXT EPISODE: BLUES BROTHERS SPECIAL! THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980, JOHN LANDIS) / BLUES BROTHERS 2000 (1998, JOHN LANDIS)

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Episode 15: The Dungeonmaster aka Ragewar (1985, Dave Allen & Charles Band & John Carl Buechler & Steven Ford & Peter Manoogian & Ted Nicolaou & Rosemarie Turko) / They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969, Sydney Pollack)

In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast, we unearth one lost b-movie classic and rediscover one semi-recognized classic for highbrow types that people seem to have forgotten on purpose.

 

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The Dungeonmaster, aka Ragewar, is a tag team collaboration by virtually everyone who would ever be a part of Charles Band’s empire (Empire Pictures and Full Moon Entertainment): Dave Allen, John Carl Buechler, Ted Nicolaou….uh, Richard Band…..and Charles Band himself! Not to mention casting that finally brings Richard Moll and WASP together in the same film.

 

The results are scattershot in the very best way, incorporating zombies, monsters, giants, wizards, magical 80s computers, lasers, gremlins and post-apocalypse car chases into a cockamamie plot about an ordinary guy battling across Charles Band’s checklist of radness to rescue his girlfriend. 

 

Incredibly, the special effects are great and the cheesy hilarity almost never lets up. Listen and find out why this lost treasure deserves DVD rediscovery.

 

Next, the blacker-than-soot period piece whose title became one of the world’s most accessible faux-literate references They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? reaches deep inside our souls and squeezes for two straight hours until they burst. Starring commie traitor Jane Fonda, lost leading man Michael Sarrazin, a startling Susannah York, a poignant Red Buttons and Gig Young in an academy award winning performance. But seriously, everyone in this movie deserved one. Even Al “Grampa” Lewis, who manages to create a fully formed character with about two sentences.

 

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Sydney Pollack uses the backdrop of the Great Depression to create a unforgettable examination of the dark side of entertainment that’s lurked in humankind forever. There are showbiz satires and there are showbiz satires, but by focusing on a type of public pageant that didn’t exist very long – the marathon dance contest for couples – Horses immaculately displays in a test tube the uncomfortable truth that a big part of entertainment is seeing people suffer. ESPECIALLY when they’re “real” people. Disturbing comparisons to modern reality TV are all abound in this episode!

 

Check out the links below and hey, feel free to suggest good and bad movies for further discussion when you’re done!