Suite for Barbara Loden
by Nathalie Leger
translated from French by Natasha Lehrer and Cecile Menon
Dorothy Project, 123 pp., $15.20 (paper)
In Suite for Barbara Loden, Nathalie Leger mixes details of her own life with that of Loden’s in an attempt to tell the latter’s story. Leger supplements Suite with a bevy of other facts and anecdotes, including details of her mother’s personal life, a short history of mining in Pennsylvania, a tour through Holy Land amusement park, and a meeting with Mickey Mantle. In between it all, she describes the story of Loden’s directorial debut Wanda (1970) from start to finish.
Rather than becoming a hindrance, Leger’s assemblage of facts results in a rich and nuanced book that breaks the boundaries of genre. Suite may first and foremost be a biography on Barbara Loden, but it is also a book dabbling in cinephilia, personal memoir, film-criticism, and feminist theory. Appropriately then, Leger prefaces Suite with the following exchange from Jean-Luc Godard’s Detective (1985):
–What about this one, is it too transparent, or not transparent enough?
-It depends on whether you want to show the truth.
-What does the truth look like?
-It’s between appearing and disappearing.
Truth is the common thread running throughout Suite, and it is not that Leger doesn’t tell the truth—she describes firsthand the painstaking research she went through for the book—but rather, it’s the extraneous details to Loden’s story that Leger adds which results in questioning where the truth and consequently stories should end.
Leger references this particular trouble several times, but perhaps most succinctly when she writes, “What else? How to describe her, how to dare describe a person one doesn’t know?” The key to understanding Suite can be found here in the word “dare.” Leger’s use of the word points towards the potential anxiety in telling a story that is not your own. The details must be right, but even then, at what point does the subject become known and understood?
It cannot be at death. In the beginning pages of Suite, Leger provides a short summary of Loden’s life: born in 1932, died at 48, and a number of facts peppered in between. She directed Wanda when she was 38, acted in Wild River, and was born two years before Leger’s mother, and the same year as Delphine Seyrig, Sylvia Plath, and Elizabeth Taylor.
The book could have stopped there, and indeed, Leger reveals that the idea of Suite initially began as an encyclopedic entry, but that she found herself caught up in tangents of research. To that end, one reason for the personal aspects and digressions of Suite can perhaps be found in the book’s final quote of Loden: “Everything that you do must be heard. That’s why I made Wanda. As a way of confirming my own existence.”