Weegee’s New York

The unexpectedly charming travelogue by the world’s most notorious photojournalist.

Produced by Evergreen Films and Grove Press, this short documentary about New York City is probably not quite the film you’d expect from Arthur Fellig, rather better known as Weegee. He apparently picked up the nickname due to his remarkable ability to beat the emergency services to crime scenes, with some suggesting that he must have been consulting a Ouija board to get his information. There are other versions, rather less exotic, for the name.

Weegee was perhaps the first sensationalist news photographer, the inspiration for many a seedy movie tabloid character (the most recent film to clearly riff off his legend is Nightcrawler). His uncanny ability to find crime scenes becomes a little less uncanny when you discover that he was – unusually – licensed to use a police-band shortwave radio – but his work often transcended what must have been rushed and instant shooting situations and took on a curious artfulness that few tabloid photographers have been able to match. Weegee had a definite eye for composition.

Outside his photo-verité work, Weegee had a fascination with the outsider, the freak and the misfit. He was attracted to burlesque dancers, circus performers and street people when not running around after examples of nocturnal human misery. His work was, and is, unique and fascinating.

He worked with Kubrick, inspired the look of The Naked City and was friends with George Harrison-Marks and Pamela Green. His friendship with these two British nudie pioneers perhaps inspired his own 1960s nudie-cutie, The Imp-Probable Mr Weegee, where he stars as himself surrounded by naked women.

But back in 1948, he made this unexpected cine-verité short documentary that is almost a love letter to New York – at least, it is free of the murder and crime that was his bread and butter. Perhaps the first sub-header, ‘New York Fantasy’ sums it up best. It’s rather fascinating and you can see the influence of this in the Mondo movies of the 1960s.

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One comment

  1. The Manhattan footage is really quite unique in its experimentation. But the Coney Island stuff is a bonafide masterpiece. Witty in an old-school way, which I like, and full of incredible images of people getting on with the business of being human, in all its ugly beauty.

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