Andre Bazin once suggested that critics should only write about films they like, and I agree with him. I feel as though I wasted some time earlier in the week talking about aspects of films that I don’t enjoy, and, to borrow Dylan’s phrase, that don’t do no one no good. One of my goals as proprietress of The Ordinary is to share films and music and art that I’ve stumbled upon at some point in my life. I’d like to share things that are often overlooked because they’re small or not-well-hyped or outside the mainstream. I want to share them not just because they deserve to be known, or because their creators have earned praise and recognition, but because your life will be richer for knowing them. Or so I believe. In that spirit, I give you Little Fugitive. I spoke in grand and foolish terms about the death of independent cinema last week, so it’s fitting to talk now about the film that many people have described as the birth of American independent film. Little Fugitive was made in 1953 by novelist Raymond Abrashkin and photographers Morris Engel and Ruth Orkin. It was nominated for an Oscar for best writing, which is somewhat surprising, because the story, though full of drama, is somewhat sparse of plot. Seven-year-old Joey takes a practical joke a little too seriously and believes that he’s killed his older brother. He’s on the lam, and he flees to Coney Island, where he spends a few days eating hot dogs and cotton candy, sleeping under the boardwalk, and collecting the deposit money on glass bottles to pay for food. Richard Andrusco, who played Joey, was a non-professional, as were most of the other actors. Engel hid a camera inside his coat, and he filmed Coney Island, teeming with life. He filmed hundreds of people who had no idea they were on camera. His portrait is joyful and affectionate, he captures every small beautiful gesture. He shows the poetry of two people folding a towel, coming together and moving apart as if in some strange sweet dance, he shows the easy generosity of a boy carrying a younger child through a flooded street. The story is told with the spontaneity and humor of a child–he sees everything because few people notice him, and we’re afforded the same chance. He’s buoyant and resourceful, as most children are. He operates outside the rules of the bustling society around him, darting in and out of crowds, weaving through a sea of towels and sunbathers. During the day this is mostly exhilarating and fun–he’s getting away with something. But as evening falls we feel his wistfulness and loneliness. We’re not told about it, we’re not hammered over the head with it, but we feel it in the off-kilter shots, in shots of him still in the center of a whirl of families, in the lights of the amusement park separated from him by a sea of forbidding darkness, and in the way he falls as the parachute falls, floating slowly down to the dark earth.
In this scene of a sudden summer storm, everybody runs for shelter, and we see Joey by himself, in a desert of lonely empty beachfront, searching for bottles.
The film is so visually beautiful and yet so simple and unplanned–more about observation than manipulation, more about noticing and capturing the beauty of the every day than creating a pretty scene with an expensive budget. The movement of the crowds, the small dramas, the lights and shadows of the boardwalk, the boy’s little triumphs and failures are so beautifully captured and so captivating. Francois Truffaut credits The Little Fugitive with the birth of the French New Wave, “Our New Wave would never have come into being if it hadn’t been for the young American Morris Engel, who showed us the way to independent production with his fine movie The Little Fugitive.” I wish the Americans had noticed this film half as much! I wish it had been like a little pin full of simplicity and honesty to prick the bloated studio system, and let out all of that hot air.
Here’s One Too Many Mornings by Bob Dylan, because it’s been on my mind, and it seems like such a perfect song right now.
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 t salt
lots of black pepper
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 stick butter, frozen (1/2 cup)
Combine the flour, salt, black pepper and powdered sugar in a big bowl. Grate in the butter and mix with a fork until you have a coarse, crumbly texture. Add just enough ice water to pull the whole thing into a workable dough. (Should be less than half a cup) Knead for under a minute, wrap in foil, and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour.
2 cups strawberries, hulled and roughly chopped
2 t corn starch
3/4 bittersweet chocolate chips
Combine the strawberries and cornstarch in a bowl and mix well
2 cups macarons, crumbled or processed (Or 1 1/2 cups crumbled meringues and 1/2 cup coarsely ground hazelnuts)
2 T godiva chocolate liqueur, rum, or kirsch
4 T butter, melted
1/3 cup brown sugar
Preheat the oven to 400. Butter and flour a tart pan. Roll out the dough to fit, and press it into the pan. Poke it in a few places with a knife or fork. Prebake for about ten minutes, till it loses it’s shine and seems set. If if falls down, gently (and carefully, it’s hot!) press it up with your fingers or a broad spoon.
Scatter the chocolate chips over the prebaked shell, and then the strawberries.
In a large bowl sprinkle the liqueur over the macaron crumbs. Stir in the salt, melted butter and sugar. Press this mixture evenly over the strawberries and chocolate chips.
Bake for about 20 minutes, till the crust is golden, and the topping is darkened and slightly firm to the touch. Let cool slightly, and serve with lightly whipped, lightly sweetened cream.
When my son was little in the mid eighties, we had a local station that would show old movies in the afternoon that would appeal to kids. There was lots of Robin Hood, French Foreign Legion and Tarzan. One afternoon they showed The Little Fugitive. Mother, father and son were glued to the TV, well aware that we were seeing something extraordinary. We didn’t catch the title, though and it took years for us to track it down again.
Incidentallly, Robert Bresson (Lancelot du Lac) didn’t use professional actors either!
You know, I think the only Bresson I’ve seen is Jean d’arc! I’m going to look for Lancelot du Lac. And I have au hazard Balthazar on my queue, so I’ll move it to the top. Jean d’arc was beautiful!