The story of Weddings and Babies, Morris Engel’s last feature which was filmed with portable camera and sound equipment, a novel synchronized sight-and-sound- process that was developed by Engel himself, starts off a little lamely, with a woman who wishes to marry the man, and the man, a photographer, resisting naturally enough, pleading that he must support his old mother. The woman, Viveca Lindfors, turns in a stunning performance. The man, John Myhers, is a capable actor. But the anonymous old Italian immigrant who plays the mother breaks through every contrivance of the plot with smashing immediacy.
There she is, stout and old, a sinking,squarish frame of old bones, tireless, with hairs on her chin and a toothless mouth, talking to herself in Italian. She is at least partly senile, but has enough sense and dignity to be more than merely pitiable. Viveca Lindfors wants to marry and have babies while there is still time. She feels she is cheapening herself in an endless love affair. The photographer wants a new camera to build a sounder future and make something of himself. Weddings and babies are the mainstay of the dreary trade he wants to get away from, in order to attempt something more important.
The old mother wants shelter, with the aid of Social Security money, and an angel affixed to her tombstone.She escapes from a home for the aged and the care of the nuns to go out to Queens on the subway. In the stonecutter’s yard she stops to marvel at the face of the angel. Then she goes to a cemetery not far away. What happens there is as impressive as anything seen on the screen. News of his mother’s disappearance has broken up the birthday party at which the photographer has given Viveca Lindfors an engagement ring, the result, alas, of pressure applied by Viveca. Looking for his mother among the graves, the photographer begins to feel that he cannot give up his freedom and his opportunities to distinguish himself, to be something.
Here we begin to realize more definitely what we have already senses in earlier frames of the picture: that when the situation is clear, when the feeling is right, the genius of Engel was to penetrate the hard surfaces of appearance, make the stones eloquent, cause subways and pavements to cry out to us, the millions of dead in clumsily marked rows to influence us. The lesson of the dead, as the photographer reads it, is that he must act before it is too late. He must fulfill himself before he is overtaken by the grave.
A bit of psychiatry now creeps in to dim the effect of the great city cemetery. Viveca pronounces her lover not yet free from Mama and walks off. But at film’s end, the photographer, alone in his melancholy and empty studio, is dialing his Viveca on the telephone, and the signs are that he will recover her. No other resolution seems possible. In the face of old age and death, weddings are still performed, and brides hunger for children. Morris Engel, with Ruth Orkin, going it alone, proved that the quality of a picture filmed independently is different from the results of collective effort from the large corporation. A large team must inevitably have a leveling effect on the imagination of any single member of it. Also the pressure of money, the millions and millions invested tends to turn the artist into sober bureaucrat. What Engel was asking, was whether there was not some way to free the film maker from the complexities of organization and the power of the dollar.
(see link at end)…Weddings and Babies (1958) marked the end of a cycle — the third in what could loosely be called the filmmakers’ “New York Trilogy” — but also featured a second technological breakthrough that allowed Engel and Orkin to create a movie with an immediacy rarely seen in movies. In a September 1958 Harper’s article, noted documentarian Richard Leacock described it:
“Engel’s earlier films had been dubbed — that is, they had used a system perfected by the postwar Italian film-makers of shooting a scene with a silent camera and then fitting dialogue to it in the studio. This made it possible to photograph anywher
ithout being chained to the big clumsy sound cameras or upset by `extraneous noise.’… To my amazement, Weddings and Babies was not dubbed… Here was a feature theatrical film, shot on regular 35-mm stock, with live spontaneous sound…. [it] is the first theatrical motion picture to make use of a fully mobile, synchronous sound-and-picture system.”
Leacock theorizes that what spurred this invention was the fact that the filmmakers were used to taking their still cameras to various sites, a kind of mobility impossible with traditional equipment. They wanted to replicate this ease in their film, and the result, Weddings and Babies, is as remarkable as their earlier efforts, if not quite on par with Little Fugitive. Read More:http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/26/engel.php