Little Fugitive

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In 1953, Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin adopted the Neo-Realist technique almost verbatim to create a film about American youth; Little Fugitive.  Like Rossellini and the Neo-Realists, Orkin and Engel’s film made use of light weight camera equipment and deep focus wide angled lenses as well as “non-actors” to construct a reality so close to our own that it inherits its agency. The techniques of the Italian Neo-Realists allow Orkin and Engel’s film to function as a national portrait in microcosm; following the events of a single day in one little boy’s life.

Orkin and Engel’s production value had been considerably less than that of the Italian filmmakers but nevertheless managed to inspire a generation of American movie directors (often working on a small budget out of necessity) to create very personal films that were also distinctly regional. The documentarian feel of Little Fugitive, its ability to capture intimacy between its players like the proverbial “fly on the wall”, would go on to influence films as diverse as John Cassavetes’ Shadows (1958), Charles Burnett’s Killer Of Sheep (1978), Harmony Korine’s Gummo (1996) and David Gordon Green’s George Washington (2000).

Little Fugitive bristles with the enthusiasm that only comes from invention. Orkin and Engel are writing a new kind of American movie with every shot, with every restriction imposed on them by circumstances. On the Kino Video DVD package François Truffaut is quoted giving credit to Orkin and Engel for having invented the “New Wave” with this film. And though Little Fugitive might not feel as revelatory today as it did then its place in film history and its raw energy make it one of those essential films that is as enjoyable as it is stimulating.