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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.37:1 Standard
  • English PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • I Am Wanda, an hour-long documentary by Katja Raganelli featuring an interview with director Barbara Loden filmed in 1980
  • Audio recording of Barbara Loden speaking to students at the American Film Institute in 1971
  • Segment from a 1971 episode of The Dick Cavett Show featuring Barbara Loden
  • The Frontier Experience (1975), a short educational film about a pioneer womanís struggle to survive, directed by and starring Loden
  • Trailer
  • An essay by film critic Amy Taubin

Wanda

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Barbara Loden
1970 | 103 Minutes | Licensor: Janus Films

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #965
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: March 19, 2019
Review Date: March 16, 2019

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SYNOPSIS

With her first and only feature filmóa hard-luck drama she wrote, directed, and starred inóBarbara Loden turned in a groundbreaking work of American independent cinema, bringing to life a kind of character seldom seen on-screen. Set amid a soot-choked Pennsylvania landscape, and shot in an intensely intimate vťritť style, the film takes up with distant and soft-spoken Wanda (Loden), who has left her husband, lost custody of her children, and now finds herself alone, drifting between dingy bars and motels, where she falls prey to a series of callous menóincluding a bank robber who ropes her into his next criminal scheme. An until now difficult-to-see masterpiece that has nonetheless exerted an outsize influence on generations of artists and filmmakers, Wanda is a compassionate and wrenching portrait of a woman stranded on societyís margins.


PICTURE

Barbara Lodenís lone feature film Wanda comes to Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection, presented on this dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The 1080p/24hz encode comes from a new 2K restoration undertaken by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and The Film Foundation. The notes indicate that even though Wanda was filmed in 16mm it was optically blown up to 35mm color negative film, and it was this negative that was used as the source for the restoration, not the original 16mm elements.

The film opens with notes on the restoration indicating the rough looking nature of the film, and how certain flaws and imperfections were left to keep the look of the film. Because of this I was expecting a lot of damage to remain but this isnít the case at all. Some minor marks like dirt and grit pop up every so often but there isnít much, the restoration work cleaning up a surprising amount without impacting the image at all. The film is very grainy, not too surprising considering it was a 16mm film blown up to 35mm, and I would have guessed extensive clean-up could have harmed the image in some way because of this, but that doesnít appear to have happened. Grain remains. Itís heavy, but gorgeously rendered and never noisy. The final shots of the film, which take place in a dark setting, could have easily been a noisy mess yet itís handled perfectly.

This all naturally leads to a wonderfully crisp, and sharp looking image. WellÖ As sharp and as crisp as the source can allow at any rate. The film has a fairly cold look but colours are still nicely saturated and at times they can be bold. Blues look especially good (sky shots looking gorgeous) and skin tones look natural. Black levels are nice and inky, and other than the low-lit final moments, crushing isnít too big of a concern and shadow detail is strong.

This could have easily been a real mess but itís been perfectly handled and looks remarkable. Itís not only very clean (despite the opening notes suggesting damage was still heavy) it has also been encoded brilliantly and it really does look like a projected film in the end.

8/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The film comes with a lossless PCM 1.0 mono track. In relation to the actual restoration the track does sound clean, never presenting any significant issues: no pops, cracks, or drops. Unfortunately there were some obvious limitations while filming. Loden talks a little about technical issues in one of the included features, and audio was obviously one of them. While most of the film presents clear dialogue there are times where it is hard to make out what is being said, it sounding as though the sound equipment couldnít clearly pick up what was being said. It can be a bit of an annoyance but itís obviously inherent to the source materials.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

We get a smattering of special features starting with I Am Wanda, a 1980 documentary directed by Katja Raganelli. Raganelli wanted to get a document of Loden and the 62-minute film became a bit more than that when she learned (after filming had completed) that Loden had been battling cancer for a while and it was getting worse (she would pass away by the end of that year). The film presents lengthy interviews with Loden (as well as her husband Elia Kazan and others), with the last 15-minutes or so focusing around Wanda and its making, her noting how she originally just wrote the script expecting someone else would make it, though felt others didnít understand the character. But most of the film has Loden recall her life, from her upbringing, to falling into acting, and then finally making her film, recalling some of the most significant moments. Itís a wonderful, rather personal portrait of the woman, Loden obviously intent to get her life story out there in some fashion. A really terrific inclusion.

Criterion then digs up a couple of archival interviews. First is a 13-minute portion from a 1971 episode of The Dick Cavett Show, featuring Loden talking about her film. I wasnít sure about this one as Cavett was either not overly prepared or he had been fed incorrect information (Iím going with the latter) but Loden, as she talks about the film, has to correct Cavett on occasion. This is then followed by a 61-minute audio recording of Barbara Loden talking at the AFI, done on April 2nd, 1971. Talking with the host and taking questions from the audience, she talks about Wanda and its production, and the learning experience it offered her. I found this particularly funny as Loden obviously just went with the flow while filming, working around issues, and accepting what she was able to get. She gets a into how scared she was to make a film because she felt it had to be perfect, but once she let this go (thanks to seeing other experimental works) she found it easier to do things. While she recognizes the filmís flaws she accepts them as just being a part of the film. She also expresses her surprise at how well it had been accepted. Itís a long conversation but I found it to go by incredibly fast, and itís fascinating listening to Loden talk about her first experience making a film and all the surprises that came with it.

Criterion then includes a short film directed by Loden in 1975, The Frontier Experience. This 25-minute educational film also stars Loden, who plays a woman coping with the harshness of being a settler in the frontier. Itís about what I would expect from an educational film but Lodenís style lends it a nice sense of realism. The film appears to be sourced from a standard-definition master.

The disc then closes with the filmís Janus re-release trailer and the included insert features a nice, lengthy essay on the film by Amy Taubin, who writes about the film and recounts an interview she conducted with Loden.

Disappointingly, outside of Taubinís essay, the academic angle is lacking, but I was taken by all of the content around Loden and the making of the film, the release providing a wonderful portrait around the actress and filmmaker.

7/10

CLOSING

A wonderfully put together special edition that delivers an exceptional looking digital representation of the stunning new restoration. Highly recommended.


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