Suite for Barbara Loden by Nathalie Léger
Translated from French, Suite for Barbara Loden by Nathalie Léger is a tiny book that blends film critique, memoir, research and inquiry into a mere 123 pages. Inspired by a short writing assignment to craft an encyclopedic entry for the 1971 film Wanda, Léger found herself delving into the what little she could learn of a woman - Loden - who produced, directed and starred in the fictional film about another real woman that somehow resembled Loden herself.
Years before, Loden had come across a news clipping about a woman who got caught up with a criminal man and, through a series of unfortunate events, was separated from him during their planned robbery. This resulted in his being shot by police and her eventual arrest. When she was sentenced to 20 years in prison, she told the court, "Thank you." This captured Loden's attention and, for ten years, she fundraised to create a film based on vague outlines of this story. The film was Wanda, but the devastation of this woman from the news clipping was not reflected nearly as much as Loden's. This, in turn, captured Léger's attention.
Loden died at age 48 in 1980 and her son and friends did not share much about the woman. Léger tried to find the real life woman on which the movie was based but she, too, disappeared after being released from prison in 1970. Léger got most of her biographic information from Elia Kazan's, Loden's husband's, memoir. In many respects, this difficult woman remains unknowable and, thus, this book is a small ode to a woman not entirely lost.