Cinema Scope

The Exorcist

Barbara Loden re-emerges in fragments. Caught in a 1965 snapshot from street photographer Garry Winogrand, she cuts across a wedge of city sunlight; tufts of windblown hair halo her wary face as one high heel steps just out of frame. Elusive, she fascinates—a female flâneur frozen in the shimmering afterlife of a gelatin silver print. “I spent every day just walking and walking,” Loden said of her early New York years, “and I didn’t really know what I was going to do.” Decades later, in 2002, when the picture is mass-produced as a 37-cent photogravure stamp commemorating Winogrand, not Loden, she is already dead. “The image is ghostlike,” wrote Susan Loden in a press release identifying her sister, who, as the actor-writer-director of Wanda (1970)—the independently produced classic newly released on Blu-ray by Criterion—had embodied a resonant portrait of a woman adrift before succumbing to cancer in 1980 at the age of 48. “I am astounded and proud, but not surprised, that she has made her way back into view.”

That phrasing—“she has made her way back into view”—is attractive to me, as if something marrow-deep in Barbara, Loden had pranced around as a sprightly, kittenish comedienne on . In one 1956 episode, she dangles her towhead from one side of a wooden box and “her” legs from another, while a moustachioed and bug-eyed Kovacs, in character as tosspot magician Matzoh Hepplewhite, asks, “Have you ever been sawed in half?” Loden pauses, as if the question, made redundant by her intact body, is complicated by memories of dismemberment or erasure. We could almost imagine her wondering:

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