Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Weddings & Babies

By now you've heard the good news that the San Gennaro Feast will not be cut short this year, thanks to the efforts of its many supporters. Of course, the fight is not over--the Nolitans will surely try again next time--and, as of now, the March 26 rally to keep the feast going is still on.

Our friends at Grade-A Fancy recently let us know about the TCM channel's March 16 showing of the 1960 film Wedding and Babies, in which the Feast is prominently featured.

all screenshots from the film

Directed by Morris Engel, perhaps best known for The Little Fugitive, the film tells the story of a pair of lovers on the Lower East Side, an Italian-American photographer/filmmaker and the bohemian gal who yearns to be his wife.

The New York Times in 1960 called it one of Engel's "candid-camera look-ins on a realistic slice of New York life--this time a tediously extended quarrel between two young people in love."

But the scenes of the feast are far from tedious. Shot in 1957, they show a bustling festival, the sidewalks full of people and stands loaded with clams, fried dough, watermelon slices, dolls, balloons, and other prizes. And, of course, there are lots of fried sausages--along with those "greasy sausage fingers" the Nolitan boutique owners so despise.

There's a lovely Italian girl cutting onions for the sausages. Her eyes never once stop tearing.

The saint goes by festooned in flowers, carried by the Figli di San Gennaro.

Feast-goers play a ring-toss game in front of the Rialto Restaurant. Does anyone recognize it?

In this shot below, you can get your bearings in the neighborhood. There's Alleva and Piemonte in the background, on the corner of Mulberry and Grand. Until very recently, that LIBRERIA sign on the right still existed. Does it still?

In the end, will the bohemian gal get her man? Who could resist her burning desire for an Italian name?


James Taylor said...

In the autumn of 2007 I was an intern at the MoMA, where one afternoon during a tour of the film department we were treated to a screening of "Weddings & Babies". The film uses a lot of ambient sound, but what struck me most of all was the quietness of it. No sirens, few cars, just the occasional sound of shouting or kids playing outside. The streets seemed almost deserted at times, with few parked vehicles lining the streets. I wasn't around in 1957, but it's easy to forget just how damn loud the world has gotten in the last few years.

Susan May Tell said...

This is great! Thank you!

YES! to the Feast. NO! to the transients who want to re-make the world into their own boring image.

Tricia said...

Great post & pix, Jeremiah. I'm happy to know there's a documentary film showing the feast was filled with a variety of different booths including a ring toss and other carnival games. In fact, in the past there were a great many more of these games than there are now. It's part of the tradition of street fairs. People who want to get rid of what they deride as the carnival atmosphere should move to a quiet place in the country

Marty Wombacher said...

Thanks to Grade "A" Fancy for the hat tip and to Jeremiah for the post and photos. I just checked and the film is available on Netflix as well, it's part of a double feature along with, "Lovers and Lollipops." I've never seen it and am looking forward to watching a slice of New York from the '50's.

JakeGould said...

This film is great, and the San Gennaro portrayed here is something worth preserving. But as it stands in 2011, the modern feast is just an overblown street fair with little distinct charm or any real modern cultural underpinnings.

On WNYC right now (about 10:45am) there is some talk about NYC census results and they explicitly talk about the population of Italians in Little Italy clearly dwindling. No kidding.

San Gennaro is one of the only cultural events in NYC that demands respect for the old time folks but makes 100% no acknowledgement of the shrinking of Little Italy’s Italian population.

It’s meaning has been perverted, and it is an anachronism whose organizers need to seriously think—or seriously be forced to think—about how they can rework themselves to deal with modern NYC realities. It should not be a generic street fair (which it really is now) because that does not respect the history. If the current organizers are unwilling to do this, then the city should revoke their ability to manage the feast and management duties should be passed onto others who can truly create an event that respects Little Italy and respect the changes the neighborhood has gone through.

Grade "A" Fancy said...

You're in for a treat, Marty. These are gorgeous looking and absolutely charming movies.

And yes, feasts and street fairs have surely gone downhill. Why are they no longer neighborhood stands and local businesses? I used to enjoy them but now avoid them because nearly all are professional street fair vendors of tube sox and mozzarepa. BORING!