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Wanda

Protégée (and, later, wife) to Elia Kazan, Barbara Loden left a modeling career for Hollywood fame, playing Warren Beatty’s fierce and wounded sister in Kazan’s Splendor in the Grass (1961). A series of subsequent powerhouse Broadway turns established her as more than a pretty face, but Loden didn’t return to the big screen until 1970, as the title character in her first and only directorial effort, Wanda. Shot in vérité style and bathed in hard, cold Midwestern light, the film follows the wastrel Wanda through a series of depressingly random encounters, mostly with men, after her divorce from a Pennsylvania coal miner. Buffeted by fate, she ends up pulled along in the wake of a smalltime stickup man — a disheveled, vacant Bonnie to his flat-footed, Florsheim Clyde. A critical darling of the tumultuous cinematic moment when everything seemed possible, Wanda won the FIPRESCI Prize at the Venice Film Festival and earned lavish praise from the New York critics when it opened stateside, but after a short run in a single theater, it quickly dropped out of sight and mind. Loden died of breast cancer in 1980, and the tragedy of her early death (she was 48) is compounded by the promise of her filmmaking debut. (She was preparing a second film.) Assured and unwavering in its bleak but human vision, Wanda drops us into the middle of strip-mined, strip-mall America with the soul-crushing density of a black hole. Onscreen, Loden beats Charlize Theron to the punch, downplaying not only her beauty, but her will, as a character who refuses to take an active role in her own life. The first release from Parlour Pictures, the DVD comes with excellent liner notes by critic Bérénice Reynaud.

—Paul Malcolm

Also released this week:

DVD: Alice in Wonderland; Beavis & Butt-head: The Mike Judge Collection, Vol. 3; Chris Botti — Live: With Orchestra and Special Guests; The Comeback: The Complete Only Season; Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete Fifth Season; Dallas: The Complete Fifth Season; A Fish Called Wanda: Deluxe Edition; Fullmetal Alchemist, Vol. 11: Becoming the Stone; Girls Next Door: Season 1; Good Times: The Complete Sixth Season; Hazel: The Complete First Season; How Art Made the World; Inu Yasha the Movie 4: Fire on the Mystic Island; Mr. Moto Collection, Vol. 1: Mr. Moto Takes a Chance, Mysterious Mr. Moto, Thank You, Mr. Moto, Think Fast, Mr. Moto; The Shaggy Dog; Veggie Tales: Larryboy and the Bad Apple; V for Vendetta; What the “Bleep” Do We Know?!: Down the Rabbit Hole: Quantum Edition.

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