Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Public Eye


Arthur Fellig was probably the best news photographer who ever worked. He was known as “Weegee,” after the Ouija board, because of us uncanny ability to be where the sensational news was happening, sometimes even before the police got there. He had a complete photo lab in the trunk of his car, so he could be selling printed pictures while his competitors were still heading to their darkrooms. He was best known for his black and white pictures of violent death, which he sold to the tabloid press for nickels and dimes, but he was much more than that. He worked with a bulky, demanding Speed Graphic camera, much bigger than the boxes modern cameras come in, requiring that he change flashbulbs the size of regular flashbulbs, shove in a plate, focus, and snap the shutter. Then do it all over again, often in chaotic situations. I ask you, how many photo-journalists today, with their whirring motor drives running continuously, or their hi-rez electronic cameras, would manage even one great shot per year with equipment like that? And yet Weegee shot thousands of great pictures, usually of either celebrities or the underbelly of society. It was all the same to him. Get the shot, no matter what it takes.

We saw an exhibition of his works at the Getty in Los Angeles. Isn’t that just the way? No respect while he was alive, then hung on the walls in a room just down the hall from Monet and Van Gogh and guys like that?

Here Joe Pesci plays a character inspired by Weegee, a cigar-chomping obsessive who works the seamy and violent side of New York while at the same time trying futilely to sell a book of his best, amazing work. (Many of the stills we see in the movie were actually shot by Weegee, and they are heart-wrenching.) But he was a man before his time.

Barbara Hershey is the owner of a swank nightclub who is being threatened by the Mob. They want to horn in. She turns to Joe for help, and he soon is up to his neck in goombahs. I have to say that the plot is pretty standard stuff, but it’s worth watching because of a great performance by Pesci, and a very good re-creation of the early wartime days of the ‘40s.