You've never seen a character in American film quite like Barbara Loden's "Wanda Goransky".
Written and directed and starring Loden, an actress who was married to Elia Kazan and had small but interesting roles in his films "Wild River" and "Splendor in the Grass" as well as a well-regarded turn on Broadway in Arthur Miller's "After The Fall", Loden struck out on her own to make one of the seminal but little-seen independent films in American cinema with her 1970 feature "Wanda", which was restored and presented this past weekend at UCLA's festival of preservation.
As a portrait of a divorced and unemployed woman living a rootless life without meaning in and around Scranton and the coal country of Pennsylvania, Loden manages to subvert her natural beauty in a naked, uninflected portrayal of a woman on such a downward trajectory that by the final freeze frame of her, barely conscious in yet another roadside bar amongst strangers, the power of her vision is complete and unrelenting, yet somehow also tender and beautiful.
Photographed and edited by her collaborator and filmmaking parter Nick Proferes, a colleague of D.A. Pennebaker in the 60's cinema verite movement, it has been described as a film that has the faded look of "24 Polaroids a second". Shot in 16mm on Kodak Ektachrome stock, it also has a wonderful eye for composition and for finding the true moments and imagery to convey Wanda's external journey and inner state of mind.
Co-starring Michael Higgins as a hard man she meets while he is robbing the bar she has stumbled into to use the rest room and try to cadge a free drink and some bar food, Wanda and "Mr. Dennis" go on a local road trip of petty crime culminating in a poorly conceived and ultimately failed attempted bank robbery. Loden was apparently offered and turned down the Fay Dunaway role in "Bonnie and Clyde", and I read that she conceived of "Wanda' in some ways as a rebuke to what she felt was the romanticized approach that Arthur Penn and his cast took to the depiction of those characters and their world.
Wanda was inspired by Loden reading a newspaper article about a woman thanking a judge for sentencing her to twenty years in prison, and although Wanda Goransky never goes to jail in the movie, you can't help but wonder what kind of release is possible for her from her dour daily existence?
A must see!