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Ballad of Narayama

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Interview with Jane Fonda

When the press agent returned from Jane Fonda's dressing room, his face was grim.

"She's covered with gray Noxema," he said. "They tried grease, but the plaster kept sticking. So now they're trying Noxema. You wouldn't believe what she's been through."

Well, maybe not, but Noxema must have seemed like a relief after the hummingbirds. Remember Jane Fonda and the Great Hummingbird Caper? One of the greatest stories out of Rome since Elizabeth Taylor got stung by the asp.

Jane was to appear in a scene where about 2,000 hummingbirds would attack her and tear off her clothing. It was part of "Barbarella," a big-budget space-age adventure that Jane is filming in Rome. Her husband, Roger Vadim, is the director and he's just filled with bright ideas like the hummingbird bit. Jane plays a sexy comic strip heroine from 35,000 years in the future, who crash-lands on this weird planet, and...

So anyway, the hummingbirds weren't very excited about their big scene. To begin with, they actually weren't even hummingbirds at all, but wrens and lovebirds.

This won't come as a surprise to Sun-Times readers, who read it here first weeks ago when we revealed that the Pan-American Tropical Bird Act of 1923 made it illegal to ship real hummingbirds overseas.

Faced with this evidence during your correspondent's recent trip to Rome, Vadim grinned ruefully, scuffed his foot in the dust and admitted we had backed him into a comer. "Oui," he said in French, "they were lovebirds and wrens, not hummingbirds. How did you find out? You must have read it in Time magazine."

Well, anyway, the lovebirds and wrens got cold feet over the scene, so Vadim got this big fan to blow them at Jane. Then they put birdseed in her costume, on the theory that once the birds landed they'd be ready for a meal. But by the time the birds got blown through the fan, they had lost their appetites, as well as most of their control over natural body functions, so it was all a little messy. To complicate things, the birds all got together and huddled on the downwind side of Miss Fonda, who was afraid she might squash a couple of hundred. After two weeks of this, she got a fever and was hospitalized. I can't reveal here how they finally did the scene.

But by this time, a messenger came with news that the Noxema had worked. So we went to talk to Miss Fonda, who was wrapped in a dressing gown and sitting beneath an enormous pop-art ad showing Barbarella in orbit.

"I feel absolutely flayed alive," Jane said. "First they put the plaster on without anything on underneath and took off about seven yards of skin. And my tummy was sore to begin with. See, in the planet I land on, people travel by being shot through plastic tubes by compressed air.

"So we did this scene where I get shot through the tube, and my stomach got skinned on the plastic. Ouch! So Roger decided to try it again, only this time they sprinkled the tube with talcum powder. And then it worked so well that I hurtled out the other end of the tube."

At this juncture, Vadim came in from the next room and took a seat. "She is a brave girl," he said, patting her hand fondly. "You would not believe the scenes she is doing for this movie. Just the other day, for example, we hung her upside down in an enormous vat of oil and dry ice."

"The dry ice made the vapors," Jane said.

"That's right," said Vadim. "You see, the oil wasn't actually boiling." He shrugged his shoulders as if to suggest a director can hardly be expected to boil his wife in oil when the movie is only half-finished.

"I had another bad moment the day the Excessive Pleasure Machine blew up," Jane said. "The thing is, when they want to kill someone on this planet, they kill them with excessive pleasure. What a way to go." Vadim leaned forward to explain. "The script calls for Jane to overload the machine. In other words, she absorbs all the pleasure it produces, and the machine blows up. So we rigged it with flares and smoke bombs and everything."

Jane giggled. "Milo O'Shea plays the man who runs the machine," she said. "Vadim wanted us to look natural, so he didn't tell us what a big explosion there would be. When the machine blew up, flames and smoke were everywhere, and sparks were running up and down the wires. I was frightened to death, and poor Milo was convinced something had really gone wrong and I was being electrocuted.

We asked whether the movie, which takes place far in the future, would have any human-type love scenes.

"Well, not exactly," Jane said. "You see, by this time science has taken over everything, and instead of two people making love, they simply take an Ecstasy Transference Pill and hold hands."

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