Weddings and Babies (1958): Morris Engel’s Indie Feature, Starring Viveca Lindfors and John Myhers

Produced, directed, and written by the quintessentially New York filmmaker Morris Engel, Weddings and Babies is a remarkable indie film, starring the young Viveca Lindfors and John Myhers.

Shot on a showstring budget in 1957, it was shown at the 1958 Venice Film Festival, where it won the FIPRESCI (International Critics Award).  The film received only limited theatrical release in the U.S., when Engel himself distributed his work by booking select theaters in big cities.

Plotless in the conventional sense of the term, the tale depicts the loving but troubled relationship between New York City American-Italian still photographer Al Capetti (Myhers) and his Swedish-born girlfriend Bea (Lindfors), his lived-in assistant and model.

As the tale begins, Bea, like many women of her generation, is anxious to get married and have a family with Al.  Al, however, resists getting married until he’s more financially secure. To that extent, he buys a camera and begins shooting weddings and babies and other events—until his camera accidentally breaks in a devastating scene.

Meanwhile, Al is under pressure from his elderly mother, who he has been reluctantly committed to a home.  In one of the film’s longest and best sequences, the mother runs away to the Staten Island cemetery, where her husband is buried—and to see the grave site that awaits her.

The leads are not young, Al is 35 and Bea is 30, and we are led to believe that some of their communication problems stem from different cultural orientations as well as personality issues.  Al loves Bea, but he seems unable to express his feelings in an adequate way that will satisfy her emotional needs.

Ultra-modest but always candid, “Weddings and Babies” unfolds as a bitter-sweet love story that’s emotionally compelling, and in moments extremely touching.

“Weddings and Babies” is shot in a realistic, black-and white, handheld camera. Inspired by the Italian neo-realis films, Engel encouraged his actors to improvise their lines and deviate from the loosely structured working screenplay.

Chiarina Barile, who portrays Al’s elderly mother in a naturalistic, authentic way, is not a professional actress; she was discovered by Engel in the streets of New York.

The Village Voice critic J. Hoberman pointed out that “Weddings and Babies is “the most extensive portrait of Manhattan’s Little Italy” before Scorsese explored this turf in his features and docus (some of which star his real-life parents).

Morris Engel had previously directed “Little Fugitive” (1953) and “Lovers and Lollipops” (1955). Highly innovative, “Wedding and Babies, the first full-length movie to be shot with a portable camera with a synchronous sound attachment, became very influential.  It was made and released around the time that John Cassavetes began his remarkable directorial career with “Shadows” and “Faces.”