Barb Wire

| February 19, 2011

If ever a film needed a Blu-ray transfer. . .Barb Wire is not that film. Nevertheless, as of February 8th of 2011, the legendary Pam Anderson flop has received the honor of a glorious Blu-ray release, rendering in magnificent exquisiteness the film that inspired the hilariously vitriolic rage of the reviewer on the Blu-ray website the likes of which I have yet to come across on that site. Barb Wire has (in)famously had that effect on innumerable viewers, from the initial moviegoers in 1996—all ten of them—to the unfortunate souls who have put the film into their VCR or DVD players in the decade and a half since. It is at this point, however, that I must call to everyone’s attention a point made by editors David Sterritt and John Anderson in their introduction to The B List: The National Society of Film Critics on the Low-Budget Beauties, Genre-Bending Mavericks, and Cult Classics We Love, an admirable anthology dedicated to showering with love the films affectionately described by its wonderful extended title:
“For every big Hollywood hit there are many, many also-rans that have not won popular
acclaim, racked up huge profits, attracted the diligent scrutiny of PhD candidates, or
secured the warm affections of Netflix and company. But that does not mean they never
will. And in the meantime they deserve our attention. Even our love.”
In spite of the optimism encouraged by this heartwarming passage, I have no illusions that I will be able to one day walk into a random Film Studies course and happen upon a lively discussion centering on the thematic discourse of Barb Wire vis-à-vis the tendency of agents of the dominant ideology to vilify those figures who embody the individualist urge towards freedom and self-fulfillment. It’s just not going to happen. No matter how hard I fight for the film, I will always end up like the eponymous outcast in Billy Jack: I will put up a good fight, but outnumbered as I am, someone will always come up on my blind side and hit me over the head with a blunt object.
As noted by every critic that has ever reviewed (re: blasted) the film, Barb Wire is essentially a futuristic science fiction Casablanca with Pam Anderson playing the titular Bogartian hero. Taking the World War II freedom-fighters-versus-Nazis action of Casablanca and transforming it into the Second Civil War in 2017 America, the film sees Barb go from a familiarly disillusioned, self-serving, ostensibly neutral member of the conflict between the Congressional Directorate (the film’s metonymic Nazis) and The Resistance to the film’s “reluctant war hero” as per Barbara Deming’s review of Casablanca. As the owner of the Hammerhead, a popular nightclub in the cyberpunk tradition, Barb moonlights as a bounty hunter for the extra cash needed to bribe corrupt cops and to pay for her Batman-like gadgets, ultimately forced, after reuniting with an ex-lover and current Resistance fighter, to abandon her “I stick my neck out for nobody” philosophy and once again take up arms against the oppressive forces of the Congressional Directorate.
While nobody watches this movie for the story, I would be doing the film a disservice by not pointing out that the film is deceptive in its density, the transmogrification of the WWII propaganda angle of Casablanca to the exceedingly cynical depiction of a future America destroyed by its own intrinsic self-destructive tendencies representing an inspired narrative choice. Barbara Deming, in her previously mentioned review of Casablanca, argued that the film was not so much an optimistic morale-booster as much as it was a surreptitious indictment of American anxieties and pessimism. Barb Wire, in the post-WWII atmosphere in which it was made, had no need for such narrative stealth and instead comes right out with its unflattering depiction of an America torn apart from within, an America that doesn’t deserve Barb’s continued heroics à la Watchmen.
That said, I acknowledge how unlikely it is that any amount of intellectualizing on my part will ever convince a majority of readers to drink the Kool-Aid. To that end, I must now move to the commentary on the Blu-ray transfer itself, which is, in a word, magnificent. The Dutch tilt cinematography and the hypnotic use of blue in the nighttime depictions of the futuristic noir Hell of Steel Harbor are both enhanced tremendously, and that’s not to say anything of the joy of staring at a prime, Blu-ray Pam Anderson for an hour and a half. If there is one single point that can be universally conceded in relation to Barb Wire, it is that Pam Anderson succeeded where all post-Pam Grier film heroines have failed, and that is in the way she is able to simultaneously represent the actualization of a wet dream as well as the woman-as-Terminator fantasy, and allow me to testify to the fact that Barb Wire in Blu-ray emphatically confirms this indisputable assertion.
The history of film is abound with examples of films which, unable to get solid footing upon release, went on to become cult/canonical classics, and while only time will be able to determine whether or not this will be the fortune of Barb Wire, I will not sit by and wait idly. For as long as it takes, I will stand beside this lame horse and extol its virtues. I have always viewed this film as being similar to those optical illusion photographs that contain an image that can only be seen if you are looking at the picture in the exact right way. Most are still blind to the greatness within Barb Wire, but if there is any way to achieve clarity, it will be in the wonderful world of Blu-ray.

About the Author:

Kyle Barrowman is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at Columbia College in Chicago. In addition to his work for Film Monthly, he has previously published essays for Cashiers du Cinemart, Offscreen, and The International Journal of Žižek Studies, on subjects ranging from film noir to Alfred Hitchcock, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Lee.
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