Lovers & Lollipops (1956)

Screening: Friday, November 2, 8 p.m., Rich Theatre

By Drew DeVine

There’s something appropriate about Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin’s first films — important as they are to the artistic maturation of American independent film — being about children. In the case of Lovers & Lollipops, the central conceit of the film, helpfully announced in the title, seems to be in how it compares and contrasts seemingly innocent and childlike modes of behavior with supposedly mature and adult modes of behavior. Peggy (Cathy Dunn) attempts to care for her goldfish like a good “play” mother, but in her youthful, casual inattention almost leaves one out to die. This is set up as a contrast with the competence with which real mother Ann (Lori March) looks after Peggy, but as is soon revealed by her reaction to Peggy’s troubling comments about being bullied due to a lack of a father, in her own way Ann is no more of an all-knowing, all-competent God of creature-rearing than her daughter. Instead, Ann’s something like a more responsible, more aware, higher functioning version of the same necessarily limited way of existing.

The Engel/Orkin films, much like the Cassavetes films they helped to inspire, are predicated on a non-idealized (if not bleakly realist) envisioning of their subjects. It’s not so much a matter of a coldly calculating, Altmanesque debunking of idealized Hollywood visions as it is an embrace of life in all of its slippery, messy, beauty. For the Engel/Orkin team, a grainy black and white shot of Peggy’s dirty feet is as interesting and worthy of being filmed as an otherworldly, Technicolor sunset. One of my favorite sequences of the film shows Peggy’s response to the Museum of Modern Art. Like her mother who uses the museum not to contemplate artworks but to get reacquainted with an old love interest, Peggy imagines it as a playground to dance through, an indifferent backdrop to her sailboating adventures. Next to strange statues, she is neither as idealized nor as abstracted as any of them, but part of the film’s implicit claim may be that she and her forms of behavior are just as worthy of museum-aided appreciation. Now, thanks to the High, we all have an opportunity to test that claim.

Drew DeVine is a MA student in Emory University’s Film and Media Studies Program, a Cassavetes enthusiast, and smart as a whip. Screens on High is honored to have him as a guest-blogger!

Reserve tickets for the Friday, November 2 screening of Lovers & Lollipops here.

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