- In the presence of Annik Leroy
Set in the coal mining region of Pennsylvania, this film follows Wanda, an alcoholic who abandons her husband and children for a life of drinking and sleeping with strange men. Her world changes again when she walks in on a man attempting to rob a bar and ends up on the road as his partner in crime — a ride that leads them both toward the unexpected.
Marguerite Duras: I want to distribute Wanda, your wife, Barbara Loden’s film. I am not a distributor. I mean something else by this word. I mean to use all my energy to make certain that this movie reaches the French public. I believe I can. I think that there is a miracle in Wanda. Usually there is a distance between the visual representation and the text, as well as the subject and the action. Here this distance is completely nullified; there is an instant and permanent continuity between Barbara Loden and Wanda.
Elia Kazan: Her acting career showed her that no script was permanent. For her, there was always an element of improvisation. (I am speaking English in order to be more precise.) There was always an element of improvisation, a surprise, in what she was doing. The only one, a far as I know, who was like that is Brando when he was young. He never knew exactly what he was going to say, therefore everything would come out of his mouth very alive.
Marguerite Duras: The miracle for me isn’t in the acting. It’s that she seems even more herself in the movie, so it seems to me – I didn’t know her – than she must have been in life. She’s even more real in the movie than in life; it’s completely miraculous.1
“In Wanda, everything remains en suspens, Loden's shots begin a bit too soon, last a bit too long. The dictatorial “Action!” and “Cut!” of the director – bellowed out with such sadistic authority – is here prefaced by a “maybe”. The frame, too, is here too wide, there too narrow. Each shot unravels at edges. There is no other way to escape the constraint of the film set except to act carefully, as if you know nothing about it.”
“Loden described Wanda as being about a woman unable to adapt to her environment. She fits in nowhere, never understanding the rules of any place or situation. ‘Life is a mystery to her’, Loden said in a 1972 television interview. Wanda is frequently shown on the move, traversing large distances by bus or car. Yet, even when she is actually going somewhere – such as in early scenes where she is on her way to a family court hearing, although we are not immediately made aware of this fact – the film renders her voyaging as an irresolute drift, without clear destination or purpose. Like Gilles Deleuze in his Cinema 1 conjuring the modern ‘voyage/ballad’ film with all its errant disconnections, Loden renders Wanda’s trajectory as part of a narrative that is only loosely ever ‘stitched up’ or driven forward – even when it reaches the bank robbery scenes.
Wanda is an estranged body in motion, wandering through city streets. She crosses vast industrial landscapes and barren coal mining fields. There is never any home, family or community anywhere for her, never any sign of belonging. Pictorially, Wanda’s figure tends to be decentred in the film frame, jammed in or blocked from view by elements of her surroundings (such as traffic). She is frequently on the verge of slipping away at the margins of the screen; even Nicholas Proferes’ camerawork makes a show, at times, of struggling to keep her in view.”
Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin3
“[...] Loden was alone, as alone as these 19th century female writers described by Virginia Woolf: ‘whatever effect discouragement and criticism had upon their writing… that was unimportant compared with the other difficulty that faced them… when they came to set their thoughts on paper – that is that they had no tradition behind them, or one so short and partial that it was of little help’. A pioneer female filmmaker, Loden was working without a net, without role models, without a network of female collaborators (‘sisterhood’ was not invented then), in a void. Of her lonely fight, we know practically nothing, for she was shy and found it difficult to express herself, especially in public and in interviews. What we know of her life has been recounted by her male collaborators, so it is in the fictions she wrote we must look for her true voice. Apart from the difficult-to-see Wanda, her work has disappeared or is not available. No wonder women’s lives are often no more than ‘a little line scratched on the tablets of history.’ So it is to Wanda that I’ll turn again, as a story of the sentimental education of a woman, who, despite the differences of name, age, class or ethnic background, could be Barbara Loden, or you, or me.”
“Het zou verkeerd zijn de vrouwenfilm die Wanda zeker is te reduceren tot een strikte vrouwenaangelegenheid. Loden is een filmmaakster die heel bewust een ‘onvolmaakte’ stijl nastreeft - zelf rekent ze de Nouvelle Vague en Andy Warhol tot haar invloeden -, haar ruwe cinema is even 'waardeloos' en onvoorspelbaar als zijn hoofdpersonage. Haar keuze voor het goedkopere 16mm-formaat werd niet alleen ingegeven door budgettaire bekommernissen. De wendbare camera, het gebruik van natuurlijk licht en de grove korrel dragen allemaal bij tot een semi-documentaire stijl die alle franjes van het fictieverhaal verbergt. Zij kiest voor nadrukkelijke aanwezigheid van lichamen, plekken en dingen maar toch is het resultaat een momentopname van een innerlijk landschap. De fundamentele vervreemding van vrouw én man in Wanda krijgt vorm in een zorgvuldig gecomponeerde leegte vol met troosteloze uitzichten, dwingende stiltes en gesmoorde emoties. Isabelle Huppert spreekt terecht van een mysterie: personage en film geven zich bloot zonder hun geheim prijs te geven.”
- 1. “Conversation about Wanda by Barbara Loden,” Cahiers du Cinéma, June-August 2003. Conversation excerpts selected by Serge Daney, Jean Narboni and Dominique Villain in Cahiers du Cinéma, December 1980. [Translation from French by Esmeralda Barriendos. English translation partially based in the one by Carol Barko for Green Eyes.]
- 2. Dirk Lauwaert, “Wanda...,” originally published in A Prior 15 (2007), republished on Sabzian, 14 March 2018.
- 3. “Nothing of the Sort: Barbara Loden’s Wanda (1970), Cinema Comparat/ive Cinema, n°8, 2016.”
- 4. Bérénice Reynaud, “For Wanda,” Senses of Cinema, October 2002.
- 5. Herman Asselberghs, “Waardeloos en vergeten,” De Tijd, 29 augustus 2013.
“– to flee –
out into the open, into four dimensions (three + time), in search of our own material, our meter and rhythm.”
“In the USSR, thank god, there are not just functionaries and dissidents. Arthur Pelechian, an Armenian filmmaker living in Moscow, works. On documents, on Armenia, on the cosmos and on the theory of montage.”
“I want to say by way of conclusion: if Vertov, relying on his montage method based on the interrelation between adjacent elements, invited filmmakers to go ‘flee – out into the open’, into the relativity of space and time (according to Albert Einstein’s theory), then the method of montage-at-a-distance, based on complex forms of the interrelation of different processes, pushes to the outermost, into a place where our notions and laws of space and time are useless; where those who are being born do not know whom they kill, and those who are dying do not know whom they beget.”
“One can not help but suspect that Pelechian’s own obduracy is one of the main causes of this situation – that his obscurity is willed, and that, rather than seeking out an audience in his own time, his films are intended to serve more as records of the present era for future centuries. The prints, we can muse, are thus immured in a remote Siberian nuclear bunker, to be exhumed only when all other traces of our civilisation have crumbled to dust. Indeed, only a cinema centred on a pre-Babelic aesthetic system such as Pelechian’s, heedless of the formal codes and language systems of our time, could even hope to fulfil such a role.”
Jean-Luc Godard: Your films, it seemed to me, could only come out of cinematic traditions. As if the work of Eisenstein, Dovzhenko and Vertov had managed to go on and make an impression something like certain films of Flaherty or certain documentaries of the Cuban film-maker Santiago Alvarez. A type of film both traditional and original, completely outside America, which is very strong in world cinema. Even Rome, an open city, owes something to America. When there is an occupation, the problem of resistance comes up and how to resist. When I saw your films I had the impression that, whatever defects the so-called socialist system may have, at one time certain powerful personalities succeeded in thinking differently. Probably that’s going to change. As far as I’m concerned, being a critic of reality and of the means used to represent it, I rediscovered the technique that Russian film-makers used to call montage. Montage in a deep sense, in the sense in which Eisenstein called El Greco the great montage artist of Toledo.
Artavazd Peleshian: It’s difficult to talk about montage. That is certainly the wrong word. Perhaps one has to say ‘the system of order’. To cast light, beyond the technical aspect, on reflecting the depths.
Jean-Luc Godard: What is the Russian word for montage? Isn’t there one?
Artavazd Peleshian: Yes, montaj.5
“What do I mean by ‘resonance’ in this context? The figure, perhaps, to have best theorised the phenomenon is the Armenian filmmaker Artavazd Pelechian, who in a text discussing his own work developed the notion of ‘distance montage’ (or, alternatively, ‘contrapuntal montage’). Here, Pelechian specifically opposes his use of montage to what he termed the ‘classical montage’ of Vertov and Eisenstein. Whereas his forebears focus attention on the ‘reciprocal relationship of juxtaposed scenes’ in order to generate ‘meaning, appreciation, conclusion’ in a sequence, in Pelechian’s films: ‘the very essence and the principal accent of the montage resided […] less in the assembly of scenes than in the possibility of disconnecting them, not in their juxtaposition but in their separation.’ Given two montage elements which, due to what Pelechian calls their ‘visual resonance [obraznoe zvoutchanie]’, would have been brought together in Eisenstein’s or Vertov’s aesthetic systems, Pelechian seeks instead to ‘separate them by inserting between them a third, fifth or tenth element.’ It is thus through the ‘interaction of numerous links’ between two shots situated remotely from each other that Pelechian is capable of expressing the meaning of his sequence in a manner ‘far stronger and more profound than through direct collage.’”
- 1. Dziga Vertov, ed. Annette Michelson, trans. Kevin O’Brien, “Kino-Eye: The Writings of Dziga Vertov,” Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984, p. 7.
- 2. Serge Daney, « À la recherche d’Arthur Pelechian, » Libération, August 11, 1983. [Translation by Daniel Fairfax and Laurent Kretzschmar, 2012.]
- 3. Artavazd Peleshian, “Montage-at-a-Distance, or: A Theory of Distance,” Moe Kino, Erevan: Sovetakan Grogh, 1988. As published in LOLA, December 2015.
- 4. Daniel Fairfax, “Artavazd Pelechian,” Senses of Cinema, March 2012.
- 5. Jean-Michel Frodon, « Un langage d'avant Babel : conversation entre Artavazd Pelechian et Jean-Luc Godard, » Le Monde, édition du 2 avril 1992. [Translation via Kino Slang.]
- 6. Daniel Fairfax, “Montage as Resonance: Chris Marker and the Dialectical Image,” Senses of Cinema, September 2012.