going it alone: solitary wave

What then became called New Wave actually began in the early 1950′s when Morris Engel of New York began producing his own motion pictures with the assistance of his wife, Ruth Orkin, a leading photographer in her own right, and a few collaborators. It wasn’t really falling under the term independent movie making; the situation of Engel was of an independence of a different sort. ….

It was Engel who first went into the streets with a movie camera and photographed whatever moved past the lens, making no attempt to avoid the peripheral activity in the neighborhood or to bring the space about  his actors under control. Accidental sounds and motions entered his pictures as they will. After him came the French “nouvelle vaguistes” and an increasing number of low-budget movie makers in New York. In a spit in the face to the so called collective effort, the team effort, the triumph of the mass, this was a recovering of the mobility and adapatability possible only to individuals. It is hard to describe this particular virtue; it was a grasping of the idea that the progress of technology could make large, cumbersome, joint efforts, obsolete in films.

–Lovers And Lollipops, 1955, B/W, 82 Min.,
i don’t know if i care if i see another film again…morris engel has pretty much done it for me. the way he creates tension…i mean really, it’s beyond hitchcock in a way. i love this girl—Read More:http://nicolenelch.blogspot.ca/2011/03/lovers-and-lollipops-engel-morris-1955.html

Engel designed his own equipment to give the cameraman flexibility and free him from sets and sound stages, from creation by conference and consultation. As a producer-director, Engel did everything himself , ultimately a costly and wearying business. His 1950′s full-length features were The Little Fugitive ( 1953) which got distribution in the U.S. and overseas,  Lovers and Lollipops ( 1955) , which did less well  and Weddings and Babies (1959) which was hardly shown.

The scene of his movies in New York. Their subject is ordinary life, the life the late Billy de Beck once astutely described as “Parlor, Bedroom, and Sink.”  Lovers and Lollipops has more city than story in it and strikes the viewer a being a tour of what a social worker might call Community Resources. The photography is superb, and Engel’s expert work with thee camera, his taste in the choice of lights and angles, provides the main interest of the film and its unity. The images themselves are required to make up for the absence of a story. The visible and the audible are intended to propose fresh , contemporary meanings. The look of a summer street,the appearance of a child in a doorway at night, the rows of cars in the parking lot at Rockaway Beach: thse things demand that we discover for ourselves the principles that connect them.

—When an attractive widow begins seeing an old friend, her daughter Peggy (Cathy Dunn) feels their relationship threatened. Though not always intentionally, Peggy responds by thwarting the romance that is blossoming between the two adults.—Read More:http://www.kino.com/press/morris_engel/index.html

The honesty of Lovers and Lollipops, and later of the genre it started, was a certain shock value; to see what a film might be, and how we are treated to a conventional style movie with their dressed up and painted figures, spiced and sexualized, placed in expensive settings and glmorized even in the slums and underworld. At the time, to see things as they really were, beyond the Norman Rockwell veneer of comfortable disavowal, was likely curiously startling. It becomes clear that what is familiar is in any number of ways made abstract by our avoidance, by the conclusions we refuse to draw from the sight of the well-known object. To discover the power of the hard, succinct fact. Of a woman’s face wan with disappointment, of the bristles of a man’s beard, or of muffled words and random gestures, of the closeness of summer on the stoop of a brownstone house.


(see link at end)…Morris Engel is far from the most well known independent director – he made just three films in the 1950’s – but those films usurped the Hollywood stranglehold, with his debut, Little Fugitive, showing that a non Hollywood American film could be a worldwide hit through the film festival scene. Engel didn’t merely prove people all over the world would watch a US film made on a minor budget ($30,000), he showed that a different style of filmmaking was poss


The backbone of Engel’s filmmaking was direct sound handheld photography, which was made possible when he actually constructed his own lightweight 35mm camera that allowed him to film everything on location. The device made Engel the envy of such future luminaries as Jean-Luc Godard and the Maysles brothers, who were among the many who requested to use his camera once they heard of its existence.

Engels & his film editor wife Ruth Orkin’s second feature, Lovers and Lollipops, depicts a transitional phase in the life of a 6-year-old girl. With Peggy’s father having passed away before his time, her young mother, Ann (Lori March), begins dating Larry (Gerald O’Loughlin), a guy she knew a long time ago, probably before she got married. Peggy (Cathy Dunn), as most every child, has manipulated the old relationship with her mother into being one where her mother is there to please her. Thus, the new relationship between Ann & Larry conflicts with the mother daughter relationship because Larry compromises Peggy’s ability to monopolize Ann.

Even though there’s always three relationships going on in Lovers and Lollipops, any description of the film is bound to sound rather pedestrian. The conflicts in and of themselves are rather straightforward and disinteresting, but that has very little effect on the overall quality of the picture because the films are entirely predicated on incident rather than plot. The characters are rather simplistic because the point is not to study character, but rather to show the effects of indifferent and non cooperative factors.

Rather than telling the story in the traditional manner, Engel and Orkin’s use images to depict the courtship and Peggy’s alternating acceptance and rejection of it. In Engel & Orkin’s work, there’s always an added layer, the relationship the humans have with their environment, and this interaction is crucial to every scene because it’s ultimately the only thing that alters or distracts from the two situations.

As the father of New York independent filmmakers and a poet of urban life, Engel was, not surprisingly, a great influence on Martin Scorsese. Perhaps even moreso than the Italian Neorealists, Engel understood that the distinguishing characteristic of your life was where you spent it. Human behavior, thought, amusement, and most importantly interaction are so predicated on setting that truth could not be found without situating characters in a distinguishable locale that they were either extremely familiar with (for instance their house) or rather new to (i.e. Larry taking Peggy to the toy store). Engel is obviously more touristy than the Italians, who tended toward their fishing villages, with his exceptional use of New York City landmarks such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, & the Bronx Zoo making Lovers and Lollipops a time capsule of 1950’s New York.

Engel’s scenes are so impressive because he brings his photography background to the framing of the sequences. Cinematographers put each scene at the mercy of the actors, mostly allowing them to dominate by centering them in the foreground. Engel, on the other hand, is not afraid to allow the architecture be the centerpiece and the action be people’s interaction with it. His scenes are notable for the utter lack of camera movement. Hollywood went stagnant with the introduction of sound, and outside of the genre films that drew inspiration from the old German masters, still tended to be talking heads if the cameras were placed. However, Engel was starkly different than their brand of still shot because he had his characters move through the frames, which he shot as though they were a series of still photographs with the relationship between the people and objects, foreground and background, defining the shots.Read More:http://www.rbmoviereviews.com/movies/loversandlollipops.html

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