Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Dragnet 1967: Season 1 & The 70s Dimension

Dragnet migrated from radio to TV in 1951, at a time when the dominant style for crime stories was docu-realism with a noir edge. Dragnet writer-producer-star Jack Webb had a foursquare personality that fit those times perfectly, and his show eked nearly a decade's worth of episodes out of the mundane procedural details of life as a Los Angeles police detective. When Webb brought the series back in 1967, he kept the arid style and emphasis on minutiae, but Dragnet's tightly contained sense of outrageâ€"previously directed at mobsters, hop-heads, and other criminal parasitesâ€"found a new target in the expanding ranks of counterculture weirdoes crowding the Sunset Strip. The result was high camp, as Webb hissed taut sermons at know-it-all longhairs and the liberal courts that coddled them.ü

Of course, Webb didn't do that every week. The 17 episodes on the Dragnet 1967: Season 1 DVDâ€"yet another poorly transferred, extras-poor TV-on-DVD release from the seemingly indifferent pop-culture stewards at Universalâ€"are mostly of the quickie-mystery variety. Webb and his comically grumpy partner Harry Morgan catch a case and crack it in a little over 20 minutes, including the shoe leather and paperwork. But even in episodes that aren't expressly about bad acid trips or cop-hating hipsters, the war between the '50s and the '60s plays out in the visual clash of blank pastel walls and rainbow-colored crooks, and in the sound of staccato deadpan speeches punctuated by ludicrously overbearing horn stings. Webb may have tried to mock the new and literally trumpet the old, but his longstanding commitment to showing real life via real location footage meant that the Dragnet series from 1967 to 1970 inadvertently captured a Los Angeles and an America in transition.

The Other Cinema DVD anthology The 70s Dimension presents the ass-end of that transition. Half the disc is devoted to avant-garde shorts that recontextualize clips from 1970s television, most impressively in Thad Povey's Thine Inward-Looking Eyes (which freezes the self-conscious stares of non-actors on camera) and Tony Gault's Not Too Much Remember (which excerpts raw, violent sequences from public-affairs programs and assembles them into a collage of anxiety). The rest of the disc presents '70s TV commercials and local news segments in their pristine original form, focusing especially on clips that sell beauty and health in the form of hot dogs and sodas. (The prize of the compilation may be a figure-obsessed Tab ad that insists that when it comes to women staying trim, "the Coca-Cola company wouldn't have it any other way.") While Wisk warns about "ring around the collar" and ABC sells its fall TV season as "a bright new world," the message that rises above the vulgar pitchman's call says that peace, love, and youth are the new norm. For a time, at least, in spite of Jack Webb's best efforts, the hippie freaks won.


Share This Story