[box cover]

Wanda

There's a fine line between deliberate and slow, and Barbara Loden walks it with her sole directorial outing Wanda (1971). Outside of Wanda, Loden's film career amounts to an interesting footnote: She began as a model and pin-up girl, only to be discovered by Elia Kazan, who put her in Wild River (1960) and Splendor in the Grass (1961) and who later married her. She had some other roles on TV and acted on Broadway, but her last cinematic performance was in Wanda. The picture was well received internationally, but domestically it barely received a release. Though Loden tried to get another project off the ground, by 1978 she was diagnosed with cancer, which she fell victim two years later at the age of 48. Her loss is notable, as Wanda shows a definite talent. Loden plays the titular character, who begins the movie getting a divorce and leaving her kids in the custody of her husband — she knows that she can't take care of any of them. Though she doesn't have much money, Wanda figures that she's attractive enough to get drinks out of men, and so she hooks up with one for a while, Mr. Dennis (Michael Higgins), who's abusive, but they eventually settle in with each other. He's also a petty criminal, and her roles in his crimes become more and more elaborate the longer they're together. Shot in 16mm with a hand-held style that employs numerous extended, uninterrupted shots of people talking in rooms, there's a guerrilla sensibility at work in Wanda. This is also enhanced by the quality of the DVD, which gives the film a grainy and washed out look (that seems intentional). It's this vérité sheen that makes the film play like it was someone's lost home movies. And yet there is a method to this technique, and though there's not much plot to the film, Loden does understand the language of cinema. Wanda achieves its own zoned-out rhythm, which in turns heightens the proceedings. In one sense the film very much belongs to its era, falling in line with the Easy Riders, Raging Bulls portrayals of ennui and anti-heroes. But unlike that men's club, this is a decidedly feminine take on New Hollywood aimlessness. Fortunately, both Loden and Higgins create dense enough characters, making a film that, while seemingly simple on the surface, is hard to shake. Parlour Pictures DVD is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen (1.66:1) and in 2.0 mono. Extras are limited to an essay in the accompanying booklet. Keep-case.
—DSH



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