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TCMFF 2021: Uncovering the Naked City

Regular readers of Ticklish Business know, there are a few hills which I’m prepared to die on. It seems, we’re finding these hills early on as the TCM Classic Film Festival gets going this year. Let’s get these out of the way right now: Jules Dassin is a treasure and we don’t deserve him, film is a vital cultural artifact and The Naked City is a gem of cinema. In the Criterion Collection documentary, Uncovering the Naked City, director and writer and film programmer Bruce Goldstein puts that all out there for everyone to see.

Uncovering the Naked City is airing for the duration of the festival–at least– for HBO Max subscribers. Diving into this bite sized documentary (fear not, gentle readers, it is a more than palatable 24 minutes), it becomes immediately clear how TCM’s relationship with the streaming giant will hopefully revolutionize the virtual film festival… heck, even the streaming game.

In most cases, a little documentary like this might not see the light of day. It would either be buried in the DVD extras or on treasured streaming sites like The Criterion Channel… or ran during a quiet period on Turner Classic Movies. However, as the TCM Classic Film Festival starts up, they’re using the site to craft mini collections of movies along with related content… it is a film history fan’s dream.

Uncovering the Naked City comes in ‘The Streets of New York’ collection, along with other renowned movies: Speedy, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three and of course, The Naked City.

The documentary traces the story of the intricate production of The Naked City which took the cast and crew around the island on Manhattan for a schedule of location shots, largely unseen in Hollywood cinema at the time.

As host and presenter, Bruce Goldstein traces the action of the movie describing the various innovations crafted by director Dassin and cinematographer William Daniels to make the production possible.

Using maps, photographs, film clips and plain old location shooting, we see New York as it was in 1948…. and how little of the city depicted in The Naked City remains today. All at once, it becomes clear just how important film can be as a historical document. In a few cases– if you squint– you can envision yourself on the streets as they are seen on screen. However, just as many scenes show landmarks no longer standing: Old Penn Station, the elevated train lines and even the memorable final sequence on the Williamsburg bridge… all of these spots have largely disappeared. These shots in The Naked City exist as an accessible, historical document showing the city as it was. This is New York at it’s most vibrant, and we’ll never see it like that again.

If you’re a fan of The Naked City, heck, even a noir fan, make sure to check out Uncovering the Naked City when it drops on HBO Max this week. The short documentary is a fascinating portrait of a brilliant film.

The TCM Classic Film Festival runs from May 6th through May 9th 2021 and features content on both Turner Classic Movies and HBO Max. Stay turned for lots more content coming soon on Ticklish Business!

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