Part of our ongoing Cinema Sounds series, Eric Guzman brings us “Arabella” by Arctic Monkeys, from their 2013 album AM.
Artist: English indie rock band
Influence: ’60s libidinous pulp
Result: Sex-driven psychedelic punk
Opening with a sample of a 1955 LSD medical test, Arctic Monkeys’ “Arabella” is a trip through time and space to the wonder years of sex, drugs, and space exploration. A direct reference to Roger Vadim’s sexy sci-fi film “Barbarella,” the song’s name is a combination of the film’s title and frontman Alex Turner’s then girlfriend Arielle Vandenberg. With its highly eroticized, intergalactic imagery, it is easy to see Turner’s ex as an out-of-this world sex symbol. She wears “interstellar gator skin boots” and a “Barbarella silver swimsuit,” intertwining the sexual and spatial advancements of the ’60s. This duality between space travel and sexual liberation is embodied by Jane Fonda’s titular character Barbarella, a United Earth government agent from the 41st century who is more than willing to have sex with men during her space mission. In fact, she survives on her sexuality, providing pleasure to men in return for favors, as well as even overpowering the Excessive Machine, a torture device designed to inflict death by orgasm. Now, while Turner’s ex’s fashion is inspired by the ’60s, her sexuality is more in tune with the times. “She’s a modern lover” and as such, is more reserved. “Her lips are like the galaxy’s edge” but nevertheless, she is still unavoidably attractive.
As opposed to emulating the sweet, sentimental kaleidoscopic style of the film’s soundtrack, the Arctic Monkeys adopt a harsher, punk edge with psychedelia, substituting bliss for chaos in their portrayal of love as a drug. Rather than providing warmth and relief, Arabella’s love keeps Turner on edge. She seduces and induces him completely under her control, adding a level of uncertainty to the validity of their relationship. This is evident in the chorus which serves as an allusion to the Exaltation Transference Pill from “Barbarella.” A futuristic substitute for penetrative intercourse, the pill proves to be inferior when it comes to establishing a deeper connection between individuals. Likewise, Arabella’s lovemaking feels good, but Turner is uncertain if her love feels real. Regardless, he keeps coming back for more because, as is often the case with drugs, he has become addicted. Representative of the relationship between “Barberella” and “Arabella,” the varying approaches the film and song take to the analogy between love and drugs is not only a stylistic difference, but also a difference of male perspective. Whereas the male gaze in the former is much more dominant and assured, the latter gaze is doubtful, confused and most of all, insecure.
You can download “Arabella” on iTunes.
Author: Eric Guzman is a writer from LA that studies film in Chicago. This summer he is the Editorial Intern at Facets.