Cast & Crew
Al Capetti is an Italian-American photographer who specializes in wedding and baby pictures. He lives in his modest studio in New York's Little Italy neighborhood with his Swedish girl friend of three years, Bea. Bea, who also works as his assistant, is turning thirty the next day and is eager to get married and have babies of her own. Despite his love for Bea, the immature Al is reluctant to make such a commitment and wants first to build up his business and branch out into making movies. Al is also distracted by problems with his elderly mother, who speaks almost no English and is rapidly declining into senility. When Momma shows up at the studio after having been evicted from a boardinghouse for accidentally setting a fire, her fifth such incident, Al and Bea arrange for her to enter a pleasant nursing home run by nuns. Feeling guilty for leaving his mother in a home, Al turns to Bea, who soothes him, but remains upset that their own future remains unresolved. Al is filming the street fair in their neighborhood, hoping this will start his career as a filmmaker, and when he spends his meager saving on a new movie camera, Bea questions her future and prepares to leave. In desperation, Al agrees to marry her, but his obvious reluctance offends Bea, who declares that he will not let her be a woman and a helpmate. The next day, Bea's birthday, Al presents her with an engagement ring and, at her party, announces their betrothal. Her happiness is cut short, however, by the news that Momma has wandered away from the home. Although Al is eager to finish filming the festival and is convinced that Momma will come to the studio, Bea persuades him that they must go in search of her. As Momma roams through the old neighborhood, praying to angels in churches and on street corners, Al and Bea look for her at the festival. When Al puts down his new camera, it falls to the ground and is badly damaged. He goes with Bea to the nearby cemetery where his father is buried, certain they will find his mother there. Al becomes lost among the gravestones and then, upon spotting one commemorating a man who died at the age of thirty-eight, lashes out at Bea. When they finally locate Momma beside her husband's grave, Bea returns the engagement ring to Al, telling him to keep it until he knows what he really wants. At home, Al paces and mulls over Bea's words. When a priest calls to ask Al to substitute for a missing wedding photographer, the flash system on his camera fails to function during the ceremony. Frustrated and fed up, Al phones Bea, finally ready to make the commitment to marry her.
Weddings and Babies
Weddings and Babies was considered by many to be the final film in what became known as Morris Engel's "New York Trilogy" following in the footsteps of the highly successful The Little Fugitive (1953) and its follow up Lovers and Lollipops (1956). Engel, a pioneering influence in independent cinema and the French New Wave, utilized new technology on Weddings and Babies that allowed him to film while simultaneously recording live sound. Engel liked to shoot in a verité-like style in which he often took to the streets with a small portable camera to capture the spontaneous sights and sounds of real people and places. "Engel's earlier films," said noted documentarian Richard Leacock in a 1958 Harper's article, "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 anywhere, without 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."
Morris Engel shot Weddings and Babies in 1957, but it wasn't released theatrically in the United States until 1960. After winning the prestigious Critics' Award at the 1958 Venice Film Festival (an honor he shared with Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries, 1957), Engel tried for two years to find a distribution deal that was to his satisfaction, but he could not. Ultimately, he decided to book Weddings and Babies into theaters himself and release it independently.
Reviews of Weddings and Babies were positive, though they didn't reach the same high level of praise as Engel's first film The Little Fugitive. "Weddings and Babies...as a technical exercise in cinema is one of the most exciting feature films the U.S. has produced in a decade," said Time magazine. The New York Times said, "Like his two previous films, The Little Fugitive and Lovers and Lollipops, this one is done in a highly distinctive and often impressive off-the-cuff photographic style. It is so seemingly casual and impromptu, so evidently uncontrived, both in story development and in the manner in which the shots are made and arranged, that it might be seriously labeled the 'method' way of making a film. This accounts for some suddenly exquisite and isolatedly eloquent little bits in Mr. Engel's picture...The girl is played by Viveca Lindfors, and everything she does-every movement, every gesture, every reaction, every lift and fall of her voice - is so absolutely right and convincing that the style drapes most fitly around her...She is the solid core of this film."
Viveca Lindfors' real life son with director Don Siegel, Kristoffer Tabori (née Christopher Siegel), appears in the film as the little boy in the photography studio. Chiarina Barile, who plays Al's elderly Italian mother, was discovered by Morris Engel in true verité style while she was sitting on the stoop of a New York City apartment building.
Producer: Morris Engel
Director: Morris Engel
Screenplay: Blanche Hanalis, Mary-Madeleine Lanphier, Irving Sunasky (story treatment); Morris Engel (original story)
Cinematography: Morris Engel
Music: Eddy Lawrence Manson
Film Editing: Michael Alexander, Stan Russell
Cast: Viveca Lindfors (Bea), John Myhers (Al), Chiarina Barile (mama), Leonard Elliott (Ken), Joanna Merlin (Josie), Gabriel Kohn (Carl), Mary Faranda (Mrs. Faranda), Kristoffer Tabori (Chris).
by Andrea Passafiume
Weddings and Babies
Morris Engel (1918-2005)
Engel was born on April 8, 1918 in Brooklyn, New York to a family of very modest income. He became fascinated with photography as a child, being enamored by travel pictures he came across in brochures. When still in high school, he signed up for a $6 course at the Photo League and began roaming the streets of New York with his camera. He enlisted in the Navy during World War II and became a combat photographer, where he eventually found himself documenting the historic D-day landing at Normandy, France. After the war, he photographed for magazines such as Collier's and McCall's, and became respected for his work in photojournalism.
He met his wife, Ruth Orkin, also a noted photographer, in the early '50s. After their marriage in 1952, both Morris and Orkin expressed a desire toward filmmaking. The result was an innovative and daring film they wrote, directed and produced - The Little Fugitive (1953). The story, of a seven-year-old boy from Brooklyn named Joey (the wonderful Richie Andrusco), who believes he fatally shot his 11-year-old brother (Richard Brewster), and escapes to Coney Island to avoid punishment, was certainly modest in budget ($30,000) and execution. Yet for many film scholars, there was simply nothing like it to compare to at the time. Engel's capture of New York locations, fresh use of street sounds, hand held camera technique, and employing real New Yorkers as extras, made for something fresh and new. Indeed, when in 1959, both John Cassavetes and Francois Truffaut came onto the scene with their feature film debuts (Cassavetes for Shadows and Truffaut for The 400 Blows), both were quick to publicly praise Engel for starting an "independent" mind set for film direction.
Although Engel and his wife would create only two more films: the charming Lovers and Lollipops (1956), about a little girl who views the world of her elders with a precocious eye; and the lyrical drama Weddings and Babies (1958), regarding the pre-marital jitters of a professional photographer; their influence on Indie filmmaking cannot be overstated. After his wife's death from cancer in 1985, Engel did make two video documentaries, A Little Bit Pregnant (1993) and Camellia (1998). He is survived by a son, Andy; a daughter, Mary; two sisters, Pearl Russell and Helen Siemianowski; and a grandson.
by Michael T. Toole
Morris Engel (1918-2005)
Although the opening credits twice list Viveca Lindfors' name before John Myhers', as the film ends, when their names appear over their images, Myhers' name appears before Lindfors'. The opening title cards include the following acknowledgments: "The synchronous sound equipment was designed expressly for this film by Otto Popelka, Magna Tech Electronic Company" and "The Producer would like to thank Joe Rotondi, Phil Friedman, Frank Zarel, Leslie Cardenas, Leonard Barces, Ben Rosenberg, Charles Woodruff, Lou Rosenberg, Dennis Gunst and Mecca Film Labs."
Although contemporary reviews give the film's running time as 81 minutes, the print viewed ran only 76 minutes. The credits include a 1958 copyright notice by "The Wedding Company," but the film was not registered for copyright at the time of its release. On July 14, 1986, however, The Wedding Company registered the film under copyright number PAU-897-228.
Weddings and Babies featured Lindfors' five-year-old son by director Don Siegel, Chris Siegel, who is identified in reviews simply as "Chris." He later changed his name to Kristoffer Tabori before embarking on his own career as an actor and director. According to Time, Chiarina Barile, who played "Momma," was an Italian immigrant whom producer Morris Engel discovered sitting on her front steps on Sullivan Street a few days after shooting started. The film was shot on location in New York's Little Italy.
Although the film was made in 1957, it did not open in the United States until 1960. In a New York Times interview, Engel said that after trying for two years to come to a satisfactory arrangement with a distributor, he decided to try booking the film into theaters himself. In 1958, Weddings and Babies shared the Critics Award at the Venice Film Festival with Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries. The subsequent critical reception in the United States was mixed, but Lindfors received unanimously glowing reviews. Engel's work was highly regarded in France, where, according to news items, he was regarded as a forerunner of the "New Wave." According to modern sources, Engel designed the portable, synchronous sound camera used for the production.