Reno describes the 3 am movie. (It is Barbara Loden’s Wanda):
A baby crying in the arms of a woman whose face was puffy from sleep. Her hair matted and pillow dented. The scene was familiar but I could not place it. The camera moved to a prettier woman on a couch. She sat up, thin and blonde, with a weed-like vitality, looked out the window at a front loader pushing coal waste around.
The prettier woman had ditched her husband and kids and was about to set off on a series of sketchy adventures with a jumpy, anxious man.
The point of the film was not the stark life in a coal mining town, although that was how Sandro had read it, the human element of industry.
It was about being a woman, about caring and not caring what happens to you. It was about not really caring.
Coal came in different sizes, Sandro had explained after we saw the film.
Names like lump, stoker, egg, and chestnut.
The woman in the movie goes to court and tells the judge she’s no good, her kids are better off without her. Her calm and snowy face. A person quietly letting her life unravel. Because of her beauty there would be no unnecessary detours through vanity.
The woman in the film was already beautiful and had to confront her life directly. She was driven to destroy herself and because of her beauty, free to do so.
She tries to collect the rest of her pay at a sweat shop.
What can I do for you, Lover?
The shift boss in thick glasses, his eyes big jelly orbs rolling over her.
Behind him, centering in the frame, the employee punch clock
The woman in the film drinks in a bar
She’s in hair curlers. A chiffon head scarf tied over them like a tarp over a log pile. The hollows of the curlers spaces for hope, something good might happen.
A man bought the woman a beer. She took dainty sips in her hair curlers in preparation for no specific occasion. Curler time seemed almost religious. A waiting that was more important than what the waiting was for. Curler time was about living the now with a belief that a future, an occasion for said hair, existed.
But then she was putting on her ratty underwear and the rest of her clothes and chasing a traveling salesman out of a motel room, abandoning the curlers for good.
Hey, hey – wait up.
I came to rehearse parts of this film. My memory of the scenes returning in more detail as I watched. I began to anticipate – not the lines – though I remembered a few of them, but looks on the woman’s face.
Gazing at department store mannequins as if the possessed something essential and human that she lacked. Mannequins were carefully positioned to look natural, looking off in this direction or that, but never at us.
This was part of the Sears mannequin standard. My mother had worked for a short time as an assistant window dresser at the Sears in downtown Reno. She was given a booklet with a list of instructions. The most important being the no eye contact rule. If the mannequins made eye contact with shoppers they would disrupt the dream. The shoppers’ projection. The mannequins’ job was to sell us to ourselves in a more perfect version for 1999.
But the woman peered at the mannequins for guidance. Examining their enameled makeup. A purse dangling from a stiff arm. A pole supporting each life size figure from behind, disappearing into a hole cut into the rear seam of her slacks.
They each have a pole up their ass, says the sudden wryness in the woman’s face, How bout that?
Her face when Mr. Denis, the jumpy man, tosses her new lemon pants out the window, childlike disappointment.
When you’re with me, no slacks. No slacks.
Tosses her lipstick.
Makes you look cheap.
When you’re with me, no curlers.
Why don’t you get a hat?
You don’t want anything. You won’t have anything. He tells her. You don’t have anything; you’re nothing. You might as well be dead.
Everything goes wrong when they try to rob a bank.
Nearing the end of the film, morning in a deserted sand quarry, the woman wakes up in a car. A soldier unzipping his pants and forcing himself on her. She escapes, runs screaming into the woods in her white sandals. Sling backs Mr. Denis had borrowed from the trunk of a car in the Woolworth’s lot. By luck they had fit her perfectly. She tears though the bramble, scratched, frantic. Half-dressed, half-raped. And falls face down crying. Night at a roadside tavern. Someone fits an unlit cigarette behind her ear. She’s given a hot dog
Chews it, Meek and grateful. Her beer glass is filled and refilled. Honky tonk music plays.
Fiddles eking out cheer as people shout and smoke and drink,
their voices pelting the woman.
You don’t want anything.
You won’t have anything.
You don’t have anything.
The cigarette in her long fingered hand.
Her snow faced beauty, the light of it dim.
The camera frames the woman
Her eyes toward the table.
That’s it. End of film.
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