Morris Engel films in THE DAILY PIC – Artnet News


Morris Engel, Indie Film’s Neglected Pioneer

THE DAILY PIC (#1636): I’m ashamed that I’d never heard of the films of Morris Engel until just recently, given how wonderful and influential they are. Francois Truffaut said that the movies of the French New Wave would never have existed if their directors hadn’t had the example of Engel to follow, and the same can pretty clearly be said about John Cassavetes and similar American auteurs.

It soothes my ego just a touch to note that even my most cinephilic friends had also not heard of him.

Today’s Pic is the publicity shot for Weddings and Babies, the last of the three films that Engel made, all between 1953 and 1960 and all in collaboration with his wife the street photographer Ruth Orkin. (Engel too spent most of his career as a photojournalist.) It may be my favorite of his films. It tells the poignant story of a perpetually about-to-be-married couple who run a tiny weddings-and-babies photo studio in Little Italy in New York, and make extra money by filming the street life around them.

As in all of Engel’s films, he gives the streets of New York as important a role as any of his human characters. The gorgeous chaos he wanders through is wonderful to watch, and painful, too, from the vantage point of our ever more corporate, antiseptic and Dallas-ized city. Engel’s New York is made extra present because he films its streets with a handheld 35mm camera that he helped design. The cinematographers of the French New Wave owed some of their own hand-holding to him.

Engel’s human characters are also amazing. In Weddings and Babies there’s one old woman with dementia who, despite barely uttering a single line, is utterly compelling. That must be because she’s almost certainly more-or-less playing herself.

A few of Engel’s actors were pros, sometimes even well-known ones. But a lot of them were untrained, asked to improvise their way into their roles. Again, Truffaut and his pals were given extra license to cast “ordinary” people in their films because Engel had done it first.

There are flaws in Engel’s art – he was figuring it out as he went, and sometimes fell back on Hollywood sentiment. (His films’ scores are painfully full of it, despite the occasional moment of jazzy modernism.)

It was easier to get New Wave style right once you had the films of Engel as a reference point. (Image ©1958 Morris Engel)

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Morris Engel photograph from PM included in exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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Photo above – Copyright Morris Engel  with Ad Reinhardt

Dream States: Contemporary Photographs and Video

May 16, 2016 – October 30, 2016

Exhibition Overview

Artists have always turned to dreams as a source of inspiration, a retreat from reason, and a space for exploring imagination and desire. In the history of photography, dreams have been most closely associated with the Surrealists, who pushed the technical limits of the medium to transform the camera’s realist documents into fantastical compositions. Whereas their modernist explorations were often bound to psychoanalytic theories, more recently contemporary photographers have pursued the world of sleep and dreams through increasingly open-ended works that succeed through evocation rather than description.

This exhibition takes a cue from the artists it features by displaying a constellation of photographs that collectively evoke the experience of a waking dream. Here, a night sky composed of pills, a fragmented rainbow, a sleeping fairy-tale princess, and an alien underwater landscape illuminate hidden impulses and longings underlying contemporary life. Drawn entirely from The Met collection, Dream States features approximately 30 photographs and video works primarily from the 1970s to the present.

Photographs above of exhibition photos courtesy of Eileen Travell


PM Exhibition featuring Morris Engel opens at Steven Kasher Gallery in NY 1/14/16



Morris Engel worked on the staff of PM in the 1940’s and it was one of the most exciting and rewarding times of his photographic career.  He photographed Babe Ruth, Mayor Fiorello La guardia, Ingrid Bergman, Comden and Green and many others.  Opens 1/14/16 – 2/20/16.


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To celebrate the 80th Anniversary of the Museum of Modern Art Film Archive,  LITTLE FUGITIVE will be shown on Turner Classic Movies (TCM).  LOVERS and LOLLIPOPS and WEDDINGS and BABIES and two documentaries by Mary Engel, RUTH ORKIN: FRAMES OF LIFE AND MORRIS ENGEL: THE INDEPENDENT will also be shown over the next three years.|220886&name=Little-Fugitive


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CONEY ISLAND: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861 – 2008 is at the Brooklyn Museum of Art until 3/13/16.  Morris Engel’s photographs and a clip from LITTLE FUGITIVE are included in this exhibit.

LOVERS AND LOLLIPOPS double feature with CAROL

LOVERS and LOLLIPOPS double feature with Todd Haynes new film CAROL at Lincoln Center 11/18/15

Carol    LoversandLollipops

Join us for a special double-feature event with screenings of Carol and Lovers and Lollipops, plus an extended conversation with Todd Haynes.

Todd Haynes, USA, 2015, DCP, 118m
Haynes’s adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s early novel stars Cate Blanchett as the titular Carol, a wealthy suburban wife and mother, and Rooney Mara as an aspiring photographer. They meet by chance, fall in love almost at first sight, and defy the closet of the early 1950s to be together. Working with his longtime cinematographer Ed Lachman and shooting on the Super-16 film he favors for its echoes of the movie history of 20th-century America, Haynes charts subtle shifts of power and desire in images that are alternately luminous and oppressive. Blanchett and Mara are both splendid; the erotic connection between their characters is palpable from beginning to end, as much in its repression as in eagerly claimed moments of expressive freedom. Originally published under a pseudonym, Carol is Highsmith’s most affirmative work; Haynes has more than done justice to the multilayered emotions evoked by the original. A Weinstein Company release. An NYFF53 selection.

Screening with:

Morris Engel & Ruth Orkin, USA, 1955, 35mm, 82m
Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin followed up their paradigm-shifting debut feature Little Fugitive with another film about a young child discovering and challenging the habits of adults. As was true for the directors’ earlier film, the plot of Lovers and Lollipops—a 7-year-old girl goes to escalating lengths to disrupt her widowed mother’s burgeoning romance with a sympathetic old friend—registers less than its constant stream of precisely observed, improbably sustained moments: a visit to the Museum of Modern Art; a bedtime reading that escalates into a mini-confrontation; a trip to the Bronx Zoo. An underappreciated landmark of American independent filmmaking, Lovers and Lollipops is a fleet-footed, stylish document of an older New York, and a crucial period reference for Haynes’s sumptuous new film,Carol.


Mary Engel and Todd Haynes




New book ! “Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin OUTSIDE From Street Photography to Filmmaking”

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A New Book Publication – For Immediate Release 11/20/14

 From Street Photography to Filmmaking”
 With LITTLE FUGITIVE, hailed by Francois Truffaut and rewarded at the Venice Film Festival in 1953,
the work of Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin was at the origin of a new style that revolutionized the history of cinema,
announcing the French New Wave and independent production in America. Featuring a rich and unpublished
iconography, this book presents keys to the photographic and cinematographic journey of these iconic figures.
Published by Editions Carlotta Films, Edited by Stefan Cornic,
with introductions by Alain Bergala, Anne Morra (MoMA) and Mary Engel
200 pages, Hardcover 9″ x 12″ $50 – Published by Editions Carlotta Films
To order book:
VARIETY – Daily Update – October 16, 2014 by John Hopewell
A second coffee table book features U.S. indie filmmaking couple Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin
whose 1953 “The Little Fugitive,” the story of a child growing up on Coney Island,
was a huge influence on the French Nouvelle Vague in its use of non-pros, naturalism and hand-held 35mm camera.
Coinciding with the re-release of “Little Fugitive,” this publication marks the first book ever on the
couple, also distinguished photographers, Vincent Paul-Boncour said.
Carlotta holds international rights to “The Little Fugitive” and Engel and Orkin’s
“Lovers and Lollipops,” and “Weddings and Babies.”


LITTLE FUGITIVE included in “Bombast – Boyhood” article in film comment – May 2014


LITTLE FUGITIVE at Loews Jersey Theater 4/26/14

LF at Loews Jersey

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,; $7 to $10. (Grode)

LITTLE FUGITIVE according to Mary Engel, the daughter of co-directors


Cinema of Childhood

 Exclusive article, written by the daughter of Little Fugitive directors

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!