Eight Million Stories in the Naked City

by Sara Gran

Megan wrote a few posts about photographs had inspired her writing. They have for me, too–in particular, Weegee‘s photos were a big inspiration when I wrote Dope. Weegee was a photographer who took pictures mostly in New York City–his peak production was the thirties through the late fifties. He started off as a photojournalist, using a police scanner to get to crime scenes and the like to get the first pics, and then developed renown as a more general photographer.

The other night I saw NAKED CITY, the Jules Dassin movie, for probably the third time. Naked City is at least in part based on Weegee’s photos–many of the scenes are directly modeled on his photographs. Yet I’ve forgotten the relationship between the photographer and the film–if they optioned his book (also called Naked City) or just “borrowed” his ideas. Weegee’s name wasn’t in any the credits or even in the special features. But many scenes in the movie actually begin as reconstructions of his photos, even duplicating his lighting, which then come to life. If you know the photographs it’s kind of amazing. I’m guessing there’s some kind of legal monkey business at work here, though, because Weegee’s name seems to have been erased from the history of the film. Anyone know the story here?

And, of course, the later TV show was inspired by the film. This was on TV about 3 a.m. throughout most of my adolescence and I watched it almost nightly. That and Ben Casey. What a world I thought adults lived in!

I haven’t seen many Jules Dassin films, but the two I’ve seen–Night and the City and Naked City–are tops. By the way, all the consonants in his name are hard–DASS-in isn’t French, as I’d always assumed, but an American who moved to France and made some films there after got blacklisted. Combined with the name, everyone apparently jumps to same conclusion I did.

3 Comments to “Eight Million Stories in the Naked City”

  1. I didn’t know about the Weegee inspiration–how cool for you, then, that the Washington Post referenced Weegee in their review of DOPE!

  2. Wow, I can’t believe you remember that! Thanks for remembering–I’d completely forgotten.

  3. This one is my favorite Weegee shot. http://pcnw.org/files/200203_weegee.jpg

    The two upper-crust women in tiaras, tiaras for god’s sake, out for a night at the opera maybe, totally unaware of the woman next to them in hand-me-downs and a threadbare coat. And the hatred on her face.

    And it could as easily have just been a trick of the light. Neither group might have been aware of the other at all, but in that frozen moment, where his flash removes everything else from the shot, they’re it. They’re the world. Haves and have-nots. Everything reduced to these three women.

    That’s one of the things I love about a lot of Weegee’s shots. They’re so brutally honest, whether he intended them to be or not. Like most photographers a ridiculous amount of his work is crap. But he knew how to mine the gems from the dross.

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