Saturday, April 12, 2014

523. WANDA (1970)

Running Time: 102 minutes
Directed By: Barbara Loden
Written By: Barbara Loden
Main Cast: Barbara Loden, Michael Higgins


So I meant to be back before tonight, but when I popped "The Fireman's Ball" into the DVD player the other night, the player wouldn't read the disc. I popped it back out and discovered a large, very visible crack on the disc, so I just decided to turn in. I seriously hope Netflix somehow tracks down the people that damage their DVDs and closes their memberships. It's ridiculous the amount of broken DVDs I get from them. Anyway, read on...

I didn't know much about this one going in, other than it was directed by the wife of Elia Kazan. Therefore, my view of it was quite fresh and I'll say right off the bat, I quite liked it. The film stars Loden as Wanda Goronski, a down on her luck woman who abandons her husband & children and spends her days drifting around town. We first happen upon Wanda as she wakes up on the couch of a friend and feeling unwanted, decides to leave. She hits up a second, male friend for a few dollars cash and finds herself in a bar, with intentions of washing down the money she's just borrowed. While in the bar, she manages to get the attention of a gentleman, who buys her the drink and ends up in a bed with her. In a scene we don't often see, it's the gentleman who awakes a little later, trying his best to be quiet, so he can sneak away easily. Wanda wakes up and chases him down, but later he ditches her. She then happens into another bar, later that night, to find a barkeeper just about to close up shop. She begs him to use the restroom and he reluctantly obliges. He rushes her out of the ladies' room, but before he can get rid of her, she asks for a drink, a comb and perhaps a towel so she can dry her hands. It turns out that this guy isn't the barkeeper at all, but a man who has just robbed the joint, with the real barkeeper on the floor, behind the bar, gagged with a towel. The two exit together and somehow Wanda ends up shacked up in a hotel with this guy, him demanding that she go out and get him some hamburgers and a newspaper. He's a bully, who uses physical and notably verbal abuse to control Wanda into becoming his muse and together, the two plan a bank heist.

After watching "Escape from Alcatraz" and hearing some people compare it to "A Man Escaped" and reading on Wikipedia that some compare "Wanda" to the films of Robert Bresson, I really can't wait to get a look at that guy's work - which I'll be doing later this season with "Bresson Week" (probably sooner than later). Anyway, yeah this was pretty great. I have to say, I put this in the DVD player last night and then I was doing something (can't remember what). Anyway, the DVD menu just played on a loop and I kept glancing at it and even the disc menu intrigued me - a lone woman in white walking across a pathway, surrounded by mounds of dirt (I think it was actually mounds of coal, but it looked like dirt from just the DVD menu). I think when even a DVD menu can start getting you excited for a film, then you definitely have something. The film was low key, quiet - at times so low key, I felt like a voyeur, snooping on real people, as opposed to film characters - and consisted of lots of realism. I really don't have much nitpicking to do...well, maybe just a hair. I was going to say how much I loved the lighting of the scenes with Barbara Loden and Michael Higgins in that hotel room and how I wished it had gone on longer. In fact, I think I could've watched these two characters interacting in that cramped, grungy, ugly, yet somehow cozy hotel room for the entire duration of the movie. However, I quickly got used to the second half of the film, which revolves around the two planning the bank robbery.

Perhaps I'm missing something, but I kind of have to wonder why Loden would portray such a character. Obviously she wasn't a big feminist, because her creation and portrayal of Wanda is quite the opposite of any positive statements one might want to make in favor of women's power. She's an uneducated, quiet little woman, who believes she'll never amount to anything, nor have anything. She allows herself to be treated like a prostitute and a punching bag (mainly for verbal jabs) by both main character Norman (Higgins) and by the other guy, whom we only see for a bit. I mean, I applaud Loden for not turning her film into an activist's statement and just telling us a good story, but it seems to me that a powerful woman existing in 1970 would want to empower her character too. I mean this was right out of the 60s and wasn't that the big "burn your bra", women's liberation period? I'm probably venturing outside of my comfort zone, as far as my knowledge of this subject goes, so I better turn back. Anyway, that's not a criticism - more of a compliment for keeping the movie statement free.

But yeah, this is definitely one you're going to want to check out. It's not big budget Hollywood, nor is it experimental. It's perhaps an integral film in the birth of independent cinema - a type of film that would fall comfortably between those two polar opposites. Loden shines as the title character - a character you're not going to forget easily. Don't let me forget Michael Higgins who also does a standout job as the bullying bank robber, who takes Wanda under his wing. Recommended.

RATING: 7.5/10  I could see myself going higher eventually, but for right now that number feels right.


April 12, 2014  10:40pm


  1. Sorry for the delay...
    Boy was this one difficult to get to see.. I ended up paying a fortune for a VHS copy.. but fortunately was able to sell it again for only a little less of a fortune...

    Yes, a slightly odd (but interesting) one. Using such an unsympathetic lead character is a bold step... especially as (I think) we are supposed to sympathise with Wanda and her plight.
    How much of her situation is her fault.. or other people (ie the men in her life).. society.. or fate? Her listless acceptance of all the crap that hits her.. is she so battered by life that's all she can do.. or is it mostly her own creation?
    Well,, from what I remember.. at the end wasn't there signs she is getting herself together?
    I don't know.. but i will say it is one i quite.. appreciated.. seeing (Pause there to find the right word.. 'enjoy', was, as often the case, not really the best word.

    1. Well, I kind of took the ending to mean that she was just gonna be stuck in the same rut forever. It's just a still shot of her in a bar, looking glum.

      Thanks for the comment Ray. Was starting to worry about ya.


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