Monday, April 28, 2014

Little Fugitive

Little Fugitive
seen @ Landmark Loew's Jersey Theater,Jersey City, NJ

There was a television PSA that used to play on afternoons and Saturdays when I was a kid - I forget who specifically it was for - in which a little girl gets separated from her mother in a public place. All these strangers would come up to her, speaking different languages, presumably trying to help her but oblivious to the fact that she doesn't speak whatever language they're speaking. They're shot from the girl's POV, so it's as if they're addressing you, through the camera. Eventually someone identifies her mom and they're reunited. (That PSA creeped me out not because of the fear of getting lost in an unfamiliar place, but because of all those strangers!)

I don't recall many childhood incidents where I wandered off on my own. The most prominent one is perhaps my earliest memory - running away from my grandma's house when I was about two because her dog freaked me out. I don't think I got far, though. Running away scared me at least as much as the dog.

As a child, I knew my neighborhood, of course, and I tended to stick to the same spots most of the time. During third and fourth grade, I walked to and from school by myself. On weekends, I'd walk to the stationery store to buy my comics, and that was about a half-hour to forty-five minutes, longer if I stopped off at McDonald's or White Castle to eat. These were all familiar locations, though. I like to think that my parents impressed in me the importance of not straying too far from the neighborhood.

These days, though, it's different. While I rarely, if ever, wandered off on my own, my parents still trusted me enough to go certain places by myself once I reached a certain age, whether I walked, took public transportation, or rode my bike. Now, it seems like a lot of parents go far out of their way to keep their children safe and protected - and not just little kids, and for more purposes than just playing by themselves. They got a term for it - "helicopter parenting" - and apparently it's a real problemStill, there are people who actively advocate letting kids be kids and to not worry so much when they go off on their own.

Little Fugitive is a time capsule, capturing an earlier time in American history in which the freedom of kids to walk and play on the streets and in other public places was taken for granted. Watching it now, in 2014, it's hard to believe that a little kid could wander around Coney Island in the summertime by himself, and not get abducted or hurt or what have you. And while there is an element of urgency - his older brother wondering where he is, the horse trainer who looks out for him - it's not as amplified as you might expect. 

The movie chooses to emphasize little Joey's adventure, as opposed to the potential danger he may or may not be in, and it's clear that by the time his brother finds him, he does alright - more than alright, in fact. Traditionally, this has been the premise of many a children's book, especially those in which the protagonists travel to magical realms where they meet fascinating and unique people, have adventures, and rely on their wits to accomplish a goal and make it back home in one piece. Fugitive plays a lot like that, actually.

I've written before about Coney Island and what it means to me, and while I've seen Coney in other classic movies, I've never seen it in such detail as this. In particular I loved seeing the old parachute drop ride in action. It's been out of service for just about my entire lifetime - I certainly don't remember ever seeing it in use - and while it looks like fun, it also seems a bit tame compared to some of the newer, more modern rides. And my god, was the beach packed in this movie! I know I've never seen so many people there before.

Last Saturday's screening at the Loew's JC also included a guest appearance by Mary Engel, daughter of Fugitive co-writers/co-directors Morris Engel & Ruth Orkin (Ray Ashley is also credited as a co-director and co-writer), and she talked about the film and how she has kept it in the public eye all these years. Apparently it was a major influence on the French New Wave, and it's easy to see why: it was shot entirely on location, with a specially built, handheld, 35mm camera, and it feels very modern, very European in terms of cinematography and editing, quite unlike a typical Hollywood movie from the 50s.

Your Humble Narrator and Ms. Citizen Screen herself

Did I mention I had company? I've written before about my pal Aurora, whom I met for the first time at the Loew's JC after making her acquaintance through her blog. She was there too, fresh from her week in Hollywood for the TCM Film Festival, and we caught up on old times before watching the movie together, which we both adored. (It was the first half of a twin bill, but unfortunately, I couldn't stay for the second half.) When it comes to movies, she gets around: she had spent the previous night in Fort Lee, NJ at a screening of the old John Barrymore film Twentieth Century, as part of a special Barrymore tribute. I'm hoping I can get her to come into the city this summer for some outdoor movies.

UPDATE 4.30.14: Here's Aurora's account of the night, in which she also talks about the second movie, Harold Lloyd's Speedy.


  1. Fantastic write-up, Rich! I'll simply be pointing anyone who stops into my post over here! I couldn't possibly say anything better than you do here.

    So happy to have had another opportunity to spend time with you discussing films. Especially great was watching this particular film with you. And, I will certainly try my best to get to the City for those screenings! If/when you learn of the schedule let me know so I can plan a few days off if needed.

    Thanks also for the shout out! ;-)


  2. Well, like I said, there are plenty of free movies all over the city every summer, so finding one or two you like that'll fit your schedule shouldn't be hard at all.

  3. A special movie indeed for its uniqueness in theme and presentation.

    PS: Nice photo as well. Sounds like a wonderful evening.

  4. It was.

    Aurora took the picture. She thought of taking it before I did.


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