Just the Facts
Jack Webb’s TV show Dragnet, which he wrote (?), directed, produced and starred in for something like 300 episodes, is a good teaching tool. The cutting demonstrates a common error, whereby dialogue is snipped up into piece of film showing a series of people speaking: “My turn” — “My turn now” — “Me again.” Overlaps and reaction shots are banished, and the result is a deadening of affect so that even the most showboating of guest stars are crammed into compartments along with the rigid, robotic Webb himself as Detective Joe Friday.
But this is no beginner’s error — the choice is deliberate and it creates not only a distinct staccato style but a helpful effect. Since the show is a procedural, the cutting emphasizes the question-and-answer nature of police work. Psychology is denied. “Just the facts, ma’am.” What Hitchcock might have disparaged as “photographs of people talking” becomes an expressive tool in itself to depict what police work might actually be like — emotions tamped down, conclusions postponed until certitude is arrived at, just the assemblage or raw data gleaned from laborious legwork and mouthwork.
Repeat ad infinitum.