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By Phil Hall | August 9, 2006

Commercially unavailable for many years (although widely circulated on bootleg video), Barbara Loden’s 1970 feature “Wanda” was virtually ignored in its day but is celebrated by some critics today as a landmark of independent cinema. But viewed anew, it would seem that such critical celebration is seriously off-base.

Set in Pennsylvania’s coal belt, “Wanda” finds Loden as the title character – a newly divorced drifter who seems curiously numb to the world around her. Literally walking her way across the state by without cash or friends, she hooks up with a petty crook and joins him in a small-scale crime spree.

The problem with “Wanda” is the obvious fact this is a terribly made movie. Shot in grimy 16mm with some of the worst sound recording this side of “The Jazz Singer,” “Wanda” has a plodding, lethargic flow that wants to mirror life unfolding but only makes real-time feel like hard-time. Loden as a director has no clue where to put the camera, when to cut a scene, or even how to get credible performances from her mostly non-professional cast (many of whom seem terrified to spit their lines out).

As an actress, Loden gives a mannered and irritating performance – she packs in enough actressy tics to make Geraldine Page seem catatonic in comparison. Loden was the wife of the legendary director Elia Kazan (he cast her in a supporting role in “Splendor in the Grass” and in the Broadway premiere of Arthur Miller’s “After the Fall”), and she never helmed another film after “Wanda” (she died in 1980). Whether she possessed the talent to write and direct serious films is not clear from this production, which is among the most painfully boring movies to emerge from obscurity via DVD.

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