Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Film Recommendation of the Week...

Little Fugitive
Release Date-October 6, 1953.
Running Time-1 hour 20 minutes.

First, there was the post-WWII Italian Neo-Realist Movement, which began with some excellent films like "Bicycle Thieves" and others previously featured on this blog. Then came this film, an American independent production from 1953 which is credited with sparking the French New Wave of cinema of the 1950's and 60's. Shot on a shoestring budget with hand-held 35mm cameras that did not capture sound (the dialogue was dubbed after filming) and using non-actors for all the roles (not one actor ever appeared in another role for any other film), "Little Fugitive" has been an inspiration to countless directors and film makers and still holds its' own as an exemplary piece of fine film making. 

The plot is sparse, capturing a day in the life of typical Brooklyn youths, where adventure is found in the escapist wonderland of Coney Island. It's charm lies in its' lack of pretense and creative use of cinematography, capturing the vibe of the borough through use of a hidden camera. This technique allowed the director license to capture everyday people during the course of their day as if life were being lived one step at a time. This period piece may sound dated, but its' innate charm of a bygone era is what makes the work so riveting. If you're not a sentimentalist or a nostalgia buff, this film is not for you. There are no explosions, no car chases, no damsels in distress-just the tale of a little boy who finds himself on a journey of discovery that would be unheard of in today's jaded and dangerous world.

It is a world where the innocence of youth isn't marred by pedophiles, freaks, and the myriad of hapless assholes that would make spending a day at Coney Island in peace practically impossible today. The little boy, who runs off after mistakenly thinking he shot his own brother with a bb gun, becomes lost and at the same time becomes a part of the carnival world of what was then the most famous amusement park in the world. It's almost shocking to think of Coney Island as a refuge for a boy who believes himself to be in such trouble, now that in the year 2013 Coney Island is basically one gigantic and pathetic slum. 

This film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing and Best Motion Picture Story and won the Silver Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival. It was shown in over 5,000 theaters world-wide and was selected in 1997 for preservation by the Library of Congress to the National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant". High praise indeed for such a small, independent project. 

Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin-

What makes the film is the cinematography. Both Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin were established photographers at the time, and they took an approach wherein every shot is akin to a black-and-white photograph shot in living time. They both collaborated in two more films, "Lovers and Lollipops" and "Weddings and Babies", and all three can be purchased via the Kino Video site, which along with Criterion do their best to keep films such as these alive. If you fancy yourself a fan of film, these are three that are a must-have in any collection. 

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