Morris Engel - Rotten Tomatoes

Morris Engel

Highest Rated:   93% Little Fugitive (1953)
Birthday:  
Birthplace:   Not Available
Despite a relatively slim body of motion picture work, Morris Engel towers alongside the forefathers of American independent film. Debuting in 1953 with the classic Little Fugitive, he pioneered a vibrant, photojournalistic style celebrated as much for its low-budget realism as its uncommon humanity. Often working in collaboration with his wife, the famed photographer Ruth Orkin, Engel defined not only the rough-edged and deeply personal aesthetics of independent filmmaking but also the nuts-and-bolts blueprint, working with miniscule budgets and equally tiny crews to make movies far removed from the sanitized gloss of Hollywood. His efforts would ultimately impact not only successive generations of New York filmmakers including John Cassavetes and Martin Scorsese, but also the upstarts of the French nouvelle vague: No less than Francois Truffaut himself told the New Yorker, "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, Little Fugitive."Engel was born April 8, 1918, in Brooklyn, growing up poor in Williamsburg and Coney Island. His father died when he was three years old, leaving the youngster only a two dollar watch -- Engel later wrote it "was the symbolic essence of mystery and power of another world." His fascination with the watch and its mechanics soon shifted to the camera, and he began collecting photographs and assembling scrapbooks. While working as a bank clerk in 1935, Engel spotted an advertisement offering photography courses at the Photo League, a group founded on the belief that shooting pictures could serve as a catalyst for social change; among his teachers there was Berenice Abbott. As a member of the Photo League's Feature Group, Engel collaborated with Aaron Siskind on his much-discussed "Harlem Document" project; he was additionally invited to work with Paul Strand and Leo Hurwitz on their film, Native Land. Thanks to Strand, Engel also learned how to load a movie camera.In 1939, Engel debuted his first one-man show at the New School for Social Research. In his introduction to the show, Strand wrote, "Here is a young man of 21 who sees people with compassionate understanding," and indeed, Engel's grim but humane imagery reveals great empathy for its urban subjects, evoked in haunting black-and-white. After working briefly as a photojournalist for the newspaper PM, between 1941 and 1945 Engel served as Chief Photographer's Mate in the U.S. Navy, and was a member of Combat Photo Unit 8 during the invasion of Normandy, receiving a citation from Captain Edward Steichen. Following World War II, he briefly returned to his job at PM before spending the remainder of the decade working for a series of national magazines including Ladies Home Journal, McCall's, Fortune, and Collier's. Engel also assisted friend Charlie Woodruff in constructing a 35-millimeter movie camera that did not require a tripod -- lightweight and handheld with the aid of a shoulder strap, it offered the cameraman both the portability and steadiness of a still camera while also affording the fluidity that was later the hallmark of the steadicam.Perhaps most importantly, Woodruff's camera allowed Engel to shoot films cheaply, without benefit of a large technical crew. With Ray Ashley, a writer whom he first met on PM, he began to develop Little Fugitive, raising the 30,000 dollar-budget with the aid of friends; Engel discovered the film's star, seven-year-old Richie Andrusco, at Coney Island's Steeplechase Carousel, later noting the boy's "animal strength." The darkly comic story of a Brooklyn child who flees to Coney Island in the mistaken belief that he's shot and killed his older brother, Little Fugitive boasts a cinéma vérité grittiness remarkable both for its time and its family friendly content -- Engel photographed the picture himself, using Woodruff's camera to shoot unnotice

Highest Rated Movies

Filmography

MOVIES

RATING TITLE CREDIT BOX OFFICE YEAR
86% Ordinary Miracles: The Photo League's New York
  • Actor
2012
No Score Yet Little Fugitive
  • Screenwriter
2006
No Score Yet Ruth Orkin: Frames of Life
  • Actor
1997
No Score Yet Weddings and Babies
  • Director
  • Screenwriter
  • Producer
1960
No Score Yet Lovers and Lollipops
  • Producer
  • Director
  • Screenwriter
1956
93% Little Fugitive
  • Screenwriter
  • Producer
  • Director
$22k 1953

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