“MORRIS ENGEL RUTH ORKIN
THE NEW YORK TIMES – April 26,2014
‘Little Fugitive’ and ‘Speedy’ (Saturday) For some, Coney Island reached its on-screen zenith in the late 1970s — as the site of Alvy Singer’s childhood home in “Annie Hall” and the exhausted gang’s final destination in “The Warriors.” But the picturesque Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theater offers two other vintage glimpses of this famous getaway, though “getaway” takes on a very different meaning in “Little Fugitive” (screening at 6 p.m.). This revolutionary 1953 film, about a 7-year-old who flees to Coney Island after thinking he has killed his big brother, was a major influence on the French New Wave, with its vibrant handheld camera work and nonprofessional actors. Harold Lloyd’s character in the second feature, the 1928 silent comedy “Speedy” (8 p.m.), also labors under some erroneous assumptions during his own trip to Coney Island: He unknowingly has in his coat pocket a crab with a roaming set of claws. Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theater, 54 Journal Square, Jersey City, 201-798-6055, loewsjersey.org; $7 to $10. (Grode)
By Mary Engel
Little Fugitive was a very small independent film made in 1952 on the streets of Brooklyn and in Coney Island for $35,000. There had been a few independent films before them but not many, and they helped lead the way for many other filmmakers. Little Fugitive was shot with a specially designed hand-held 35mm camera, that my father Morris Engel made with a mechanical genius named Charles Woodruff. The camera allowed him the mobility to follow the actions of the little boy who is the star of the film, Rich Andrusco, all over Coney Island, and to shoot from his point of view. I have always felt that my father’s cinematography in Little Fugitive is so strong and unique, which is evident throughout the film. Almost every frame of film could stand alone and be a still photograph. The contribution of my mother, Ruth Orkin, to the film was also very important. She came from Hollywood and helped my father with the continuity, and also became the editor of the film. Ruth was also great at marketing and helped promote the film, to ensure it was seen by audiences everywhere. In 1952, the film industry in the U.S. was mostly based in Hollywood, and the world of New York City independents hadn’t really begun in full force. Some of Morris’ early filmmaker friends were Stanley Kubrick, (they were magazine photographers together) and documentary filmmakers such as Richard Leacock, Lionel Rogisin, Albert Maysles and D.A. Pennebaker. Pennebaker was a good friend of my father (and remains my friend), and has always said how influential Morris had been.
The wonderful quote from Francois Truffaut was significant for my father throughout his lifetime, since Truffaut credited Little Fugitive with helping to start the French New Wave. Truffaut said, “Our New Wave would never have come into being if it hadn’t been for the young American filmmaker Morris Engel who showed us the way to independent production, with his fine movie Little Fugitive.” Joseph Burstyn became the U.S distributor of Little Fugitive. He was known for handling some of the great Italian film after many others had rejected them. Burstyn had a great impact on the film since he was able to bring it to Venice, where it won the Silver Lion in 1953. Unfortunately, he died tragically before the film was released. However, Litte Fugitive had tremendous success when it opened, and played at 5,000 theaters through-out the United States.
My parents both loved movies from an early age. My father used to go to cowboy movies at the Lowe’s movie theaters in Brooklyn, where he would spend the whole afternoon. My mother grew up in Hollywood and used to keep a rating book of every film she saw. She would give them 1 – 5 stars, and would review the film as well. She also collected autographs of movie stars, but later discovered it was more interesting to photograph them instead. She became a well-known photo journalist, and photographed some of the best known movie stars including Marlon Brando, Ava Gardner, Woody Allen, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Spencer Tracy to name a few. I have been handling my parent’s archives since they passed away, and it has been a wonderful legacy.
One of the most magical things is hearing people’s memories of Little Fugitive. Many people remember seeing it when they were young and it created a lasting memory for them, and they see it again and again. It helps brings back their childhood memories of summers at the beach, the 1950s or of Coney Island. We had a wonderful 60th Anniversary celebration in New York City at The Film Forum. Many people came who had already seen it, and it was also introduced to a whole new generation. Little Fugitive seems to hold a special place in many people’s hearts, and I will never get tired of hearing all the memories and thoughts about it.
Thank you to everyone who has supported Little Fugitive all of these years including : Angelo Draicchio from Ripley’s Films; Vincent Paul–Boncour from Carlotta Films; Anne Morra and Peter Williamson from The Museum of Modern Art; Brian Shirey, Gary Palmucci and Richard Lorber at Kino/Lorber; Jacob Perlin of Artist’s Public Domain; Bruce Goldstein of the Film Forum. In addition, my Little Fugitive team of friends and advisors: Foster Hirsch, John Beatty, Andrew French, Joel Schlemowitz, Doris Kornish, Terry and Angelo Corrao and of course to Rich Andrusco for being such a fantastic actor and wonderful friend all these years!
“Little Fugitive” is celebrating its 60th Anniversary in 2013! The film will begin with a one-week run at the Film Forum in NYC. Rich Andrusco, the star of the film will be attending opening night on February 1, 2013! www.filmforum.org.
The New York Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/06/movies/the-new-yawk-new-wave-series-at-film-forum.html?ref=movies&_r=1
Additional Press this week: Variety, Time Out, Village Voice, New Yorker and New York.
Feburary 5th – Cinema Arts Center, Huntington, NY
February 16th – Los Angeles County Museum of Art
February 23, 25th, 28th – Charles Theater, Baltimore, MD
February 22 – 28 – Siskel Center, Chicago, IL
March 29, 30 – Cleveland Cinematieque
March 29 – April 4 – Northwest Film Forum, Seattle, Washington
Saturday, July 21, 2012 – Sunday, November 25, 2012
In the 1920s New York City surpassed London to become the most populous and industrially advanced city in the world. A dense and animated urban environment without parallel, the city emerged as the cultural icon we know today, driven in part by an influx of European artists and an upswing in the number of galleries and museums dedicated to modern art. A number of photographers working in this dynamic environment made the city and its populace their subject.
Artists such as Morris Engel, Louis Faurer, Robert Frank, Helen Levitt, Paul Strand, and Weegee were among those deeply inspired by New York City. Photographing or filming everyday scenes as well as bustling, illuminated nightlife, these artists reveled in the genre of street photographyand created some of America’s first avant-garde cinema. Groups such as the Film and Photo League (later the Photo League), formed in 1931, championed photography’s ability to record the city in transition, with a particular focus on life in working-class neighborhoods. The group remained ctive until 1951, and its impact lasted for decades.
This trajectory of discovery and influence lies at the heart of the presentation of Film and Photo in New York The exhibition draws on the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, which includes a significant number of New York City street photographs made between the 1920s and the 1950s. Among these works are many important photographs recently acquired thanks to a grant from the Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation, including an extensive Morris Engel photo essay on view in its own gallery. Rarely seen films will be presented alongside the exhibition’s nearly 80 photographic works—more than half of which have never been displayed before—creating a compelling glimpse of a pivotal time in both New York City and the history of photography and film.
This exhibition is generously supported by Mrs. Robert O. Levitt.
Major funding provided by the Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation.
The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, 1936-1951
November 04, 2011 – March 25, 2012
An exhibit of the photographs taken by members of the Photo League opens at The Jewish Museum this week, and runs through March 25th, 2012.
Included in the exhibit are photographs by Morris Engel and his wife, Ruth Orkin
There is a very nice photo essay about the exhibit in the NY Times, you can see the Photo League images here.
The Radical Camera Exhibit can be seen:
The Jewish Museum, NYC
November 04, 2011 – March 25, 2012
Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio
April 19, 2012 – September 9, 2012
Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, CA
October 11, 2012 – January 21, 2013
Norton Museum of Art, Palm Beach, Florida
February 9, 2012 – April 21, 2013
“Little Fugitive” is being released in France for the first time in 50 years by Carlotta Films in February, 2009.
Turner Classic Movies will air all three of Morris Engel’s features, “Little Fugitive”, (1953) “Lovers and Lollipops” (1955) and “Weddings and Babies” (1958) and two documentaries by Mary Engel. One is a world premiere “Morris Engel: The Independent” (2007) 28 minutes, and “Ruth Orkin:Frames of Life” (1995) 18 minutes, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 1996.
“Cahiers De Cinema” feature story on “Little Fugitive” and Morris Engel. February 2009.