Post by StevePulaski on Dec 9, 2013 14:00:08 GMT -5
Rear Window (1954)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
The opening shot Alfred Hitchcock's masterwork Rear Window is a chilling one; one that shows off the film's bold colors, common setting, and artistic voyeurism. It simply shows the small courtyard outside that can be viewed through the rear windows of the Greenwich Village in Lower Manhattan, specifically James Stewart's character's, as the bright red blinds roll up, revealing each individual section of the window. Playing in the background is a peaceful score and after about one minute and forty seconds of credits and a static camera, Hitchcock moves us outside that window, showing us the sights of the village's backyard. From flower beds, to cats lounging around, to a dog being transported from the top balcony to the ground below, etc, the sight is familiar and commonplace to this specific setting. After a few minutes of a relaxing and almost romantic stroll through the wonders of Greenwich's backyard we meet out main character.
His name is L.B. "Jeff" Jefferies (James Stewart), a professional photographed now confined to a wheelchair after breaking his leg. He remains in his apartment during a brutal heatwave, where he and his neighbors keep their windows open all day and night. Jeff passes the time by watching his neighbors go about their daily routines; one of which is a young, attractive dancer he cleverly names "Miss Torso", a woman who often sits all by her lonesome, a pianist, a sculptor, and Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), a traveling jewelry salesman with a wife confined to her bedroom because of an illness.
Jeff frequently gets visits from his wealthy and gorgeous girlfriend Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly), but while the two have notable chemistry and know how to take care of each other well, Jeff simply views her as too perfect. He confesses this to Stella (Thelma Ritter), the sassy, home-care nurse he has been assigned to and states how he would much rather have a woman with more visible flaws than one who seems to ooze perfection and gorgeousness with every step she makes.
One night, however, this thought becomes nothing but a faint memory when Jeff awakes to the sound of a woman screaming and glass breaking. The noise comes from Thorwald's apartment, the apartment directly across from Jeff's rear window. Jeff then sees Thorwald leaving his home and is troubled by the sudden disappearance of Thorwald's wife over the next few days. Frequent spying and self-contemplation (along with bouncing the ideas off of the heads of Lisa and Stella) leads Jeff to arrive at the conclusion that Thorwald murdered his wife for reasons unknown to him. He then spends long hours watching Thorwald's every move, trying to arrive at a sensible conclusion for an action that is unjustifiable.
Hitchcock achieves the power and impact necessary for a film like this thanks to his act of making the audience a voyeur in their own right. We can judge Jeff about snooping and eavesdropping on his neighbors all we want, but are we looking away during the film? Are we the ones covering our eyes when Jeff pulls out binoculars to see across the courtyard? If not, and we're criticizing him for his actions, we are not only hypocrites but we are condemning ourselves and our own actions. We are disagreeing with our own practices and not even recognizing them.
Hitchcock leaves us with this uncomfortable feeling of seeing something we're really not supposed to or overhearing things that weren't intended for our ears. This kind of filmmaking is wonderful, especially for the time when audiences were most often used to being in a place of comfort. Films of the fifties, like Singin' in the Rain, offered a happier escape and put us in a place of joyful exuberance. Hitchcock dared to make us feel uncomfortable and make us feel unsettled at all times. He utilized lengthy shots, establishing a mood by showing off all the simple, day-to-day occurrences in a typical courtyard in America. These lengthy shots are key to the film's success. The only thing better than Jeff and Lisa conversing about everyday life or their relationship is when the scenes do the talking for us and that's key to Rear Window's success. It keeps a simple story relatively basic but also dares to let us experience the environment without the burden of chatter.
Every Hitchcock film has, what he has dubbed, a "MacGuffin," or something tangible (or intangible) that the characters in the film are searching for that we, the audience, may or may not care about. The MacGuffin here is simply proof, proof in favor of Jeff's case. With this MacGuffin, the audience is put in an odd place. We want Jeff to achieve the satisfaction of him being able to prove his case and not be made a fool of, but we also want this all to be a misunderstanding and find that Thorwald's wife isn't really dead. The way Hitchcock goes about trying to give us a two-faced MacGuffin is enticing entertainment.
Rear Window is invigorating with tremendous features that make thrillers interesting. From lengthy shots, to great performances, to an interesting premise, and the idea of repercussions arising from unintentional actions. My knowledge and resume for Hitchcock films is depressingly low for a cinephile, and seeing Rear Window was a "right place at the right time" event considering my relatively low faith in modern thrillers and crime capers.
Starring: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, Wendell Corey, and Raymond Burr. Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock.