The Changes: From 'Cat Ballou' to 'Barbarella'

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Jorn Barger

Jan 9, 1996, 3:00:00 AM1/9/96

I always feel, watching movies from the late 60s and early 70s, that
I can guess pretty accurately what year they were made, from just a
glimpse of the hairstyles *and the expressions on the faces*...

Cat Ballou was on cable the other day, and I watched it for the first
time since 1965, when my parents had taken me at age 11...

Two things placed it as pre-1966: the slapstick attitude towards
alcohol, which was strongly rejected by the counterculture, and the
*look* of the male romantic lead (Michael Callan, who was also in
Gidget Goes Hawaiian, 1961) and his pal Dwayne Hickman (Dobie
Gillis)-- they were totally uncool, by sixties standards, asshole
fratboys, practically. (You can easily imagine their characters going
to Vietnam because they believe it's their patriotic duty, and they'll
get to raise a lot of hell with the 'gooks'...)

Jane Fonda's character is supposed to be a just-graduated schoolgirl
discovering she prefers outlaws to townsfolk-- but they're not at all
the idealistic outlaws of the 60s, so it all rings a bit false.

There's a really high-energy square-dance scene that makes an
interesting contrast to 60s dance culture. Even the indian who's
supposed to be a victim of discrimination is dancing along with all
the other townsfolk, as are the outlaws, and everybody has fun
(significantly, *because* they conform totally to the dancing-rules)...

And the theme song, sung by Nat King Cole and Stubby Kay as a banjo-
playing Greek chorus, is also a really kick-ass song, in a totally
60s-uncool medium...

So it was very odd to look forward three years (or less?) to
"Barbarella", where Jane is exactly the same person/actress, but the
world has turned upside down, Dobie Gillis is banished, the
squaredance is banished, drunkenness is not funny, and the only
credible person playing banjo is *John Sebastian*... ;^/

Barbarella has an interesting mix of sexual innocence, with depravity
on a scale that's still pretty shocking. (Has anybody published
memoirs about the making of this movie? Jane says she's frightened to
watch it, these days. It was a major breakthru in bigname-star
exhibitionism. Henry Fonda's daughter!)

1965 was the year of "Help!", too... which was already worlds away
from Dobie Gillis. And I think the Fabs were already smoking pot,
but hadn't taken acid. Rubber Soul, Revolver, and Sgt Peppers would
all come out between these movies.

They were the Johnson Years, too. Nixon put an end to the era, in a
lot of ways, by killing kids at Kent State. Kennedy had fit in okay
with the Rat Pack/Playboy mentality, but you can picture him loving
the Beatles and experimenting with drugs...

Somebody pointed out on the other day, that in
1968 you could still get beat up for speaking out against the war--
Chomsky said somewhere that he thought things have gotten freer
since then in some important ways, and this took me aback...

Between 65 and 68, a huge transformation affected millions of people
in the world, very deeply, allowing them to *see* problems that had
been totally denied before.

Even Mexican and Indian movies show the same changes happening, at
some level.

People smoked pot, and looked at drunken Dobie Gillis, and shared
a vision, that this was not the path we wanted any more... it was
plastic, it was a lie...


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