Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Barbara Loden talking with John and Yoko about Wanda, the first and only film she directed

This is a screenshot of the lovely Barbara Loden on the Mike Douglas show in 1972 with John Lennon and Yoko Ono -- in English with French subtitles. Stream the clip here. Loden is explaining how they became friends at the Cannes Film Festival, where Yoko was showing a film and Loden was showing her 1970 film, Wanda, the first and only feature film she directed, one of the first features in modern times directed by a woman. Loden saw John and Yoko standing alone but was hesitant to approach them. "I'm very shy," she is saying here. "We're shy too," replies Yoko. They overcame their shyness and went on to become friends who admired each other's work. John and Yoko were on the show to promote their friend's film.

Barbara Loden was an actress and protege of Elia Kazan, whose second wife she became in 1969. Earlier, in 1964, she had won a Tony under Kazan's direction for playing Maggie, the Marilyn Monroe figure in Arthur Miller's "After the Fall" at its Lincoln Center premiere.

Wanda was well received at Cannes and continued to have many fans in Europe, but has remained obscure in the U.S. The film has just been restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. I found this clip when searching for more information after reading the recent NYT story about the Wanda and its director, who based the film on a newspaper account of a housewife who went to prison after getting involved in a bank robbery. In addition, she also drew on elements of her own life.
When “Wanda,” a portrait of a passive, disconnected coal miner’s wife who attaches herself to a petty crook, came out, Ms. Loden described it as partly autobiographical.

“I used to be a lot like that,” she told The Los Angeles Times in 1971, adding: “I had no identity of my own. I just became whatever I thought people wanted me to become.”
During her short acting career, Loden also did some writing. Kazan encouraged his wife to make Wanda after she wrote the script (although in later years he claimed to have written the first draft). As has happened with other powerful men who both mentor and overshadow their wives (e.g., Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keeffe), Kazan's support seems to have been a two-edged sword. Kazan both empowered Loden and seemed to erode her self-confidence. Unlike O'Keefe in a similar situation, Loden was not only a wife but a mother, and could not stake out her own territory as easily as O'Keeffe did by regularly getting away to New Mexico. Loden never made another film before her life was cut short by cancer, although she was working on production planning for a film adapted from Kate Chopin's novella The Awakening at the time of her death.

The Douglas clip is nearly 40 years old, but raises relationship issues that are still difficult for couples to resolve. Barbara Loden, directed by a famous director she later married, played the famous wife of a famous playwright in the famous playwright's lightly fictionalized account of his marriage to an icon. She made one movie about a woman with no identity of her own and then made no more films. On the Douglas show she is talking with another famous creative couple who wrestled with the issues brought by disproportionate fame. It's fascinating -- and somewhat painful -- to watch Lennon attempting to be the uxorious self-effacing spouse. One moment he is fading into the woodwork as a supportive spouse and the next he is suddenly hijacking the conversation. It's an awkward dance, and even today, couples are still trying to perfect the moves.

Both Loden and Lennon would die before their time eight years after this show was taped, Loden of breast cancer and Lennon at Mark Chapman's hand. We lost not only a beloved musical artist but a talented filmmaker as well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for directing me to this absolutely amazing clip of Barbara Loden with John and Yoko and your thoughtful analysis.
Best, Elyse from NYC