Working-Class Zero

One of the most notorious orphans of the American New Wave, Barbara Loden's Wanda (1970) is actually a benchmark of the era—in a period of gritty, working-class neo-neorealism, here was a genuine indie (unlike most of the "wave" 's important films) that out-low-classed the competition. Elia Kazan's wife and a highly respected actress (at least on Broadway), Loden wrote, directed, and starred in this fascinating portrait of a dim, soul-beaten woman who shruggingly allows her children to be taken away from her in court, and then, with literally nowhere else to go, falls in with an antisocial holdup man (Michael Higgins) on the road to nowhere. Equal parts Cassavetes-style vérité, Actors Studio resolve, and remarkable prophecy of the say-little, know-less, just-watch minimalism of recent Asian cinema, Wanda is also an overwhelming portrait—caught in grainy 16mm—of Middle America in the late '60s. There's a commitment to real people, and to the backlands of Pennsylvania coal country, that you may have never seen before. Loden never made another film, and, according to Kazan, died angry, 10 years later of cancer.

 
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