The Naked City (1948)

The Naked City, Jules Dassin. 1948. The DNA of this film can be found in everything from forensic cop TV shows to postmodern jazz albums to docu-dramas and more. The framing and cutting set the standard for TV cop shows that would follow in the 1950s; the emphasis on police procedure parallels in chicken-and-egg fashion the technology-driven plots of Dragnet (already on radio in 1947; TV in 1951). The odd use of narrative voice over by the producer (not a character in the show) creates a distancing device; the VO often comments on the scenes as they happen, creating cognitive dissonance between action and narration that a later generation of postmodern critics would come to call ‘metatextual framing.’ The on-location visuals of New York recall crime scene photos—Weegee was a creative consultant on the movie—that create a sense of immediacy and verisimilitude that become the basis for the entire docu-dramas genre. No wonder then that when John Zorn released the first album by his NY-based avant-garde jazz/punk band (called, what else? ‘Naked City’) in 1989, he used a Weegee image on the cover. Watching the original film now is like looking at cave paintings: in it we see a whole history not yet born but with which we are already familiar.


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