wanda ephemera

I recently obtained this French card promoting Barbara Loden’s 1970 film Wanda. I have no idea what the exact purpose of cards like these are, but it is seemingly some sort of promotional thing. I’ve seen dozens of cards like this one (for other movies) on ebay over the years. They are often listed as post cards but this is larger than a conventional post card and is loaded with writing on the back. I always assumed that these things were vintage but this one makes mention of Loden’s death in 1980 and also of the year 2003! (I speak no French so as to what exactly occurred in 2003 and how the by-then-dead Marguerite Duras figures into it can only be ascertained by a Frenchman I suppose). Anyway, here it is:

Also, Don DeLillo for some reason wrote a little piece about Wanda a few weeks back for the Guardian. Check it out here.

UPDATE: The DeLillo article has been removed. No fear. I have a copy of it printed somewhere and I will post it as soon as I find it.

9 responses to “wanda ephemera

  1. Numerous french artists and directors wanted to support the movie. Then aside the official release (1975) there were two releases in France, thanks to, mostly, Duras(1982), and Huppert (2003).
    I hope you get your answers. You’ve got my email.


  2. I’m pretty sure this is from a press kit.

  3. i’m desperately trying to find delillo’s article. did you finally locate it?

  4. Hi, these are not post cards nor press kit items. They were (or still are) something film buffs could (can?) subscribe to and receive by packs, just to collect them and classify them, like a fragmented film encyclopedia (called Les Fiches de monsieur cinéma, from a TV cinephilic program produced by a ‘mister Cinema’ called Pierre Tchernia). As for 2003, it is the year WANDA was rereleased in France in a new print.

  5. chainedandperfumed

    Early in the film a woman in the shape of a white shadow moves in long shot across a bitter grey landscape of slag heaps and mining equipment. It is a scene of phantom beauty, a spacious moment seemingly misplaced in a movie that levels every energy at small and local matters. But the scene is only the first component of an equation in the making. That chalky figure in the distance will appear in powerful close-up at the end of the film, face and heart revealed.

    The woman is Wanda and so is the film, 1971, American, written and directed by Barbara Loden, who also plays the title character.

    Wanda is a film with a 16mm spirit and a bleached neon glare. It is bare and unmediated, looking directly at a woman without studying her as a specimen of forlorn dysfunction.

    Wanda has the reading skills of a second grader. She does not make decisions or come to conclusions. She lets things happen and drifts on through, sometimes in hair curlers. She goes to bed with a man who buys her a beer and after he abandons her at a roadside stand she walks into a bar where a robbery is in progress, unknown to her, and asks the perpetrator to pour her a drink. She goes to bed with the holdup man, who sends her out for hamburgers, smacks her around and finally enlists her as an accomplice in a bank heist.

    This is the movie on paper. A volatile man, a suggestible woman. The film itself is complex and strong, with shifting insights into character and with comic moments so well embedded in the frame they nearly elude notice.

    Wanda appeared toward the end of the great era of European and Japanese movies that showed in this country. It was among the first impressive efforts in the American surge of the 1970s.

    I went to the movies on weekday afternoons, a movie on a dead afternoon, the merest scatter of people in attendance, always someone reading the Village Voice in the half murk before the house lights died. In many cases I can recall today where I saw certain movies back then, drifting from the New Yorker Theater one day to the Bleecker Street the next, alert and ever expectant, ready to be taken out of the day, the week, the plodding writer’s one-room life, and into a fold of discontinuous space and time.

    But I don’t remember where I saw Wanda. In memory, over the years, it gradually drained into a black-and-white movie. When I was lucky enough to see it again, recently, I was surprised at the inventive play of the colour photography, however rough in places, and the occasional achromatic touches. The movie is a species of black-and-white in colour.

    The awful thought arises. I didn’t see it in a movie theatre at all. Maybe it was a late-night movie on television and I saw it on my black-and-white set, with rabbit ears and missing dial.

    When reality elevates itself to spectacular levels, people tend to say, “It was like a movie.” Wanda takes the movie sensation and denatures it, turns it into dullish daily life, with the jerky gait of a woman walking a dog.

    The film does not belong to the neorealist tradition. There is no social commentary, only a woman of shrivelled perspective. This is not film noir. There is no mingling of atmospheric suspense and fateful resolution. The bank robbery is not paced differently from the rest of the film. It is ordinary, with guns. This is the dark side of the moon of Bonnie and Clyde, flat, scratchy, skewed, without choreographed affect but not without feeling.

    A French writer sent me a letter pointing out that he used to live on the street in Paris where Belmondo dies in Breathless. Barbara Loden reportedly cited Breathless as a reference. But her movie rejects the elements of style, charm and likeability. It is easy to forget, while you’re watching, that Loden also wrote and directed. There is no juxtaposition of actor, character and film. They are a seamless entity.

    In the movies, people die in the present tense. Belmondo dies again and again, unlike the man who used to live on the street where Belmondo dies.

    Before she walks in on the robbery in the bar, Wanda goes to a movie and falls asleep. People don’t do this at stage plays. At stage plays, they die. It’s always a man, never a woman, somewhere near the rear of the orchestra, choking, toppling, sometimes dying then and there.

    “He died at the Martin Beck,” they will say for years afterward, “in the second act of Kiss Me, Kate.”

    It doesn’t seem to happen at the movies. People eat and drink, they masturbate, they fall asleep, as Wanda does, waking to find that someone has stolen her purse. But they don’t die. They die at stage plays, on Broadway, after a hurried four-course dinner in a tourist restaurant, having travelled all day from the Northwest, the Southwest, the Prairie States etc.

    Film does not carry the physical reality, the spatial and emotional burden of actors in three dimensions, speaking to each other in real time. Film is pure light. It doesn’t clot the blood.

    Wanda’s criminal lover suffers from devastating headaches. He is anxious all the time. He is not dissociated from the acts he commits, as happens in other American films of lovers joined in violent crime.

    There’s nothing violent about Wanda. She is simply the empty space designed to accommodate a man’s self-doubt and flaring rage. She refers to the man as Mr Dennis. She doesn’t do this out of deference but only because she doesn’t seem to know his first name, but maybe also out of deference. He berates her for not having anything and not wanting anything. She is not a citizen of the US, he says. Then he gives her a list to memorise, in preparation for the bank job.

    When I get together with writers I know, we don’t talk about books. We talk about movies. This is not because we see the mechanism of the novel operating in certain films, work ranging from Kieslowski to Malick. It’s because film is our second self, a major narrative force in the culture, an aspect of consciousness connected at some level to sleep and dreams, as the novel is the long hard slog of waking life.

    I have a writer friend who undergoes a near-death experience, without the spiritual uplift, every time he fails to recall the name of an obscure actor in a lost movie. I called him and said I was thinking of the actor who plays the bank robber in Wanda. He said at once, “Michael Higgins,” and hung up.

    Michael Higgins is so indelibly situated in the role that it might be hard for some people, having seen the performance, to recognise him in another movie. I don’t know that I ever have myself. One morning, with this in mind, I called the friend, who came croaking and moaning into semi-awakeness. I asked him to name one movie besides Wanda – one – in which Michael Higgins appears.

    He said at once, “The Conversation.”

    He went on in groggy detail to describe the character Higgins plays in that movie and the scenes in which Higgins shows up. It turns out that the actor has appeared in more than 50 movies over a period of more than 50 years.

    Wanda itself was revived in France a couple of years ago to wide acclaim. It will happen in the US, I tell myself, sooner or later.

    In this film, sound sometimes jumps abruptly out of a character’s mouth before you understand that you are hearing dialogue. Dialogue just seems to happen, somewhere in the depths of the room, and it becomes an effective neutraliser, taking a scene out of fixed studio syntax and into the rougher and freer form of a stranger’s kitchen in a trailer park.

    This film worked against the grain of its time. The central characters are not rebels against the system or victims of the system. He is a stickup man of the old school, only rendered more deeply and played with more desperation than such characters tend to be. She is a lost soul but not a dead one and the writer-director doesn’t attempt to enlarge the character by giving her an attitude toward the world that lies beyond the tight spaces she has wandered into.

    Toward the end, Wanda finds herself in a bar where a fiddler and a guitarist play rousing bluegrass. She sits wedged in a clutch of eating-drinking-talking-smoking people. Her face, in stop-action now, with the music fading, begins to suggest the terror of self-realisation. It is a strong, sad and beautiful closing shot.

    The distant figure in a landscape of grey slag is now a fully formed person, sitting alone in a crowd, in silence and pain, thinking.

    There are certain biographical details that attach themselves, inevitably, to Barbara Loden’s name. Let’s skip them and simply note that she died in 1980, still in her 40s. This is the only film she directed.

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