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  • Ravi Swami

"Lovers & Lollipops", Dir: Morris Engel & Ruth Orkin, 1956

Updated: Nov 19, 2020

OK, hands up to the fact that some of my choices are a bit "left field" and random but this caught my eye for a number of reasons.

The description that accompanied the film contained the phrases "slice of life", "New York City" and "1950's" which were immediately intriguing to me, partly because I enjoy watching documentaries that manage to capture different eras on film, something that is also reflected in past choices of films over the lockdown and where the style of cinematography lent the films a documentary feeling, even if the plots were fiction and offering a window into, for example, post-war Europe, and partly because my father lived in New York for a brief period in the early 1950's, captured in some evocative B/W photographs taken during that period.

Part of me hoped he'd pop up in random shots during one of his days out with friends to various sightseeing locations, like the couple in the film, but in actual fact the film is dated at least 5 years after he left the U.S for the U.K - however, what's most intriguing is how little New York appeared to have changed compared to the early 50's so it's entirely possible to imagine my father walking the same streets in the same style of clothing.

The work of the directing duo Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin is not really widely known outside of the U.S but they were apparently of interest to the French New Wave movement since they used lightweight 35mm cameras, shooting mostly in monochrome which gave their films a very "Cinéma vérité" quality and intimacy, even if dramatically the plots were very script driven, as is the case with "Lovers & Lollipops".

The other interesting thing about the story itself is in how it deals with single parenthood and problems around finding a new partner if a child from a previous marriage is involved and it's treatment is very convincing, thanks to a well-written script that only occasionally drifts into Hollywood-style stereotype or over dramatization, making the film feel very contemporary - a large part of the credit goes to the the young actress who plays the wayward and stubborn daughter of the single mother and who is a take-no-hostages / very upfront character, so going against the conventional portrayal of children in 1950s' film and TV.

The other star of the film is 50's New York - shot in the same monochrome as my fathers photographs and that in the same way captures a very particular quality of light - a case of a film stock adding a perhaps unintended ambience to locations like Central Park, The Statue of Liberty or Macy's department store, besides scenes of ordinary citizens going about their business - it's the details that are most fascinating to me, like the boyfriend asking for a large Coke at a refreshment stand in (I think) Coney Island and drinking it from a paper cup that looks smaller than a regular Coke cup from a fast food restaurant now :)


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