Posted by: philosopherouge | October 1, 2007

Rear Window (Hitchcock, 1954)

I hope to review Gun Crazy and Eastern Promises in the next few days, until then, here is Rear Window.

ear Window is among Hitchcock’s greatest accomplishments. Using the camera as a voyeur, Hitchcock plunges the viewer into the mind of L. B. Jefferies, as he himself is confined to a room and finds his only pleasure in spying on his neighbours. When he thinks he sees a murder being committed, he does all he can to investigate by enlisting the help of his nurse and his beautiful girlfriend. The camera only sees and hears what Jefferies does, and the audience feels just as trapped and unsure as him. This works against the theory of dramatic irony, that Hitchcock once claimed was the key to suspense, and that he had used to full opportunity in many of his earlier films. That is to say, the audience knows more about what is happening than the characters and this is the source of suspense. In Shadow of a Doubt, for example the audience knows right off the bat the Uncle Charlie is indeed a murderer. Most of the suspense comes from the incidental events, as Young Charlie begins to unravel the fact that her uncle is dangerous. Same thing in Notorious, when Hitchcock reveals to the audience that Sebastien and his mother have realised that Alicia is working for the Americans, but she is completely unaware. Rear Window is one of Hitchcock’s first departures from this method (discounting films that don’t exactly fit into the “thriller” genre, at least not explicitly, like The 39 Steps or even Rebecca), and along with Vertigo, probably his most successful.

This shift in the way he allows the film to unravel is essential to the success of Rear Window. Dramatic Irony would have been drastically changed how Rear Window was crafted, and truthfully would have most likely been an inappropriate way to move the plot forward, and to create suspense. Placing the camera with Jefferies, the suspense comes from what we don’t know rather than what we do know. Hitchcock’s clever inclusion of both Lisa and Stella, strengthens the films tension as it gives the more sceptical audience members, characters to latch onto if they don’t immediately believe like Jefferies does, that a murder has been committed. Hitchcock is aware that not everybody will be convinced that a murder has been committed, and instead of losing his viewers because they can’t commit to a sense of suspended disbelief, he allows them to slowly be convinced along with the other two characters. If you are not caught by the time Grace Kelly, staring in confused disbelief asks Jefferies to repeat everything he thinks is going on, you’re a lost cause.

Of course, the two characters don’t serve solely as a means of driving the suspense, they enhance the strength of the film’s characterizations and thematic depth. Lisa (Grace Kelly) in particular, serves to add sexual conflict that plays into the established voyeurism. She is the perfect woman, in almost every sense of the word; beautiful, intelligent, hard working and madly in love with Jefferies. Her perfection is the grounds on which he wants to break off their relationship, before he even suspects a murder has taken place across the yard. Those early conversations they have about commitment, and her not being equipped for his line of work are a great set-up for the sacrifice and risks she takes later in the film. It’s strange that it’s the investigation of a possible murder that truly brings them together, and he finds value in the knowledge of clothes and women he earlier dismissed and realises she is prepared to put herself in dangerous situations to satisfy him, as well as her own curiosity. The scene where she sneaks into the murderer’s apartment is one of the most gripping ever committed to screen. Again, playing into the fact the audience is in effect in Jefferies mind, it’s almost as if we are also in love with her and the fear that something will go wrong permeates every frame. There is something intensely sexual about these scenes, as we are watching something that we shouldn’t, and instead of looking away we are compelled, even aroused by it. Film is a voyeuristic medium, and Hitchcock is able to turn the camera back onto his audience, revealing to us the perversity in our obsession and love for cinema (at the very least).

All of this is enhanced by Hitchcock’s meticulous attention to detail in the construction, what was at the time the largest indoor set in the Paramount studios, what literally was a living and breathing neighbourhood in almost constant movement. Hitchcock uses incidental music only, and the soundtrack is composed only of sounds that’s source can be traced somewhere within the scene. Furthermore, the orchestration of all the actors is tremendous, like an elaborate ballet. It makes the film all the more interesting in repeated viewings as your focus can drift somewhat from the exact happenings of a scene to see what the woman downstairs is doing, or the popular ballet dancer is dancing or who her guest is at a given moment. The use of lighting, which reminds me very much of Rope, is exaggerated and beautiful. The twilight scenes in particular are glowing with colour, and we see exactly why Hitchcock preferred working on a set than to go out on location. The art of set design, and lighting that makes films by Hitchcock, or Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger so intense and visually interesting, unfortunately seems an art lost to the ages.

Even today, Hitchcock is all too often relegated to the sidelines when the all time great directors and films are being discussed, taking a closer look at his filmography one realises that few filmmakers have ever compared to the depth and even the entertainment value of his work. Choosing just one film to represent them all is near impossible, and his work is so rich that at least a dozen films of his can qualitatively be called his best. Rear Window is a rare film that all films should watch at least once, and for a film that relies on surprise it’s amazing that it holds up with every viewing.

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Responses

  1. Is that the old noir Gun Crazy with John Dall you’re talking about? I touched on it last year in my blog. Look forward to reading your thoughts, especially in how it approaches issues of gender.

    I’m not sure I’d agree that Hitchcock is relegated to the sidelines, but if he is, it might be a matter of having such a large output and being so saturated into our culture. He’s not really a favorite of mine personally, although he’s undoubtedly among the most important directors in film history.
    Anyway, I would consider Rear Window his best next to Vertigo and Psycho. The medium in these is really united to the stories and themes.

  2. Yea! It was pretty incredible, hopefully I’ll put something togethe in the next day or two, assuming schoolwork doesn’t kill me.

    I suppose it depends who you talk to, Vertigo for sure gets the respect it deserves but often times his other films get cast aside.

    I actually am not really a fan of Psycho, it’s no doubt a great film but far from m yfavourite. My top three would be Notorious, Rear Window and Shadow of a Doubt.

  3. Rear Window? Puhlease, it’s old news! Write about Gun Crazy!

  4. Oooh, I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts on Gun Crazy, I love that little movie.

    I have to say that between Rear Window and Vertigo, I’d choose the latter, because James Stewart’s obsession is deeper in that one, less due to circumstances, and, I think, more interesting because of it. But over both these films? I’m a big defender of Marnie, believe it or not. Have you seen it?

  5. I actually LOVE Marnie, and am happy to find a fellow enthousiast 😀 I see what you mean about Vertigo, I’ve seen it and Rear Window about the same amount of times but RW drags me in somewhat more than the other. Really (in hyperbolic terms) it’s like comparing Michaelangelo’s David to the Sistine Chapel. Both are tremendous works of art.

  6. *weighs in on Rear Window vs. Vertigo debate*
    Vertigo is waaaay too romantic. It’s also way too serious.

    I know I’m one of the few, but when it comes to film I prefer formal elements over thematic elements. Formally, Vertigo doesn’t do much more than any other Hitchcock. But Rear Window DOES. Therefore, I choose RW. An easy choice, really.

    But the best Hitch’s are the ones where theme is abused for the sake of form. See: Foreign Correspondent, Saboteur, North by Northwest, Spellbound, etc.

  7. Actually you’re not quite alone, if I remember correctly one of the main founders of the Auteur theory thought theme and social undercurrents should be disregarded entirely for style, and that’s how he reviewed films. I could be dead wrong though.

    I’m sure we’ve discussed it, but thoughts on The 39 Steps? It’s definetely one of my favourite Hitchs’ and I think fits what you look for in a movie-film.

  8. 39 Steps: Love it.

    Theme is so big in film criticism today. I hate it. Especially all the psychoanlytic subjective mise-en-scene garbage. “The color green represents purity in contrast to the red… but it’s also the color of money, so it means he’s greedy.”
    Yeah. I hate that! It’s all about theme these days! Auteur theory, especially…

    OK, I just dislike people discussing film in general. Movies should be a private intellectual/emotional experience that like-minded people come together to discuss anectodedly. Theory sucks when everyone’s an idiot. Intellectualizing is only fun when nobody’s serious about it.

  9. But even in anecdotale situations there is a lot of reflection involved. Isn’t there a sense of anectotal reflection in recalling events like JFK’s assasination, “Where were you when he was shot?” The conversation is more than just about where you were and your emotions, but what it meant/means, why it happened, will it happen again, etc. Film isn’t as serious as that, but it holds the same basic concept of objectional conversation as emotional. I believe there is a fine line that can be maintained that can incorporate both, and that should be the aim of cinematic discussion.

  10. What? I don’t get the JFK analogy.
    It seems you understand exactly what I mean, and then contradict it.

    What does what mean? Nothing means anything! Everything means nothing! People keep talking about what a film means, but what can a film mean? Nothing and everything! Which is why it’s trivial to analyze films the way most people do.

    People need to approach film through hard fact; that is, exactly what they see or hear. Once there, rather than finding MEANING in what they see or hear, they need to create forms and ideas. Does nobody understand this? There is no meaning, only personal creation, but modern film studies is riddled with the search for meaning. No one is creating. Why is nobody creating?

  11. You’re insane, I’m convinced. You remind me of the guy who sits in the back of the class ranting about the Emmy’s and writing stories about women turning into pies.

  12. Hmm… Well, I wrote about pies turning into women, so I’m pretty sure I’m not insane. And t–

    Wait, you didn’t even bother reading my post, did you? 👿

  13. I did actually, but as much as you think most people’s stance on popular film critism is nonsense or at least pointless, I think yours is equally as worthless. For one thing, your last paragraph all at once, goes without saying and entirely follows academic works in philosophy that you so violently oppose. Your anti-authorotarian stance, in terms of film appreciation, is as militant and formulaic as much as it is a phase many young souls go through (me speaking as a pompous old fart). There is no perfect way of deconstructing and viewing the world around us, and often times the first step to finding self discovery and truth is to take the road most used. I didn’t always write this way, and I probably will evolve to a different level at sometime, sooner or later. The way I understand the world is by looking at a big picture and then a little picture; images, thoughts, etc. Looking and deconstructing film is a way I’m able to look at the way I perceive the world, as well as an introspective on my own personal creation.

    Going back a bit, you say “Movies should be a private intellectual/emotional experience that like-minded people come together to discuss anectodedly”. I disagree with this almost entirely. Art should be appreciated on an individual/spiritual level, there is no doubt about that. However, what I love most about art, in any form, is the community aspect of it. The world is moving closer and closer into “individualism” as the greatest virtue, which in fact is a hyprocracy as the more we become “individuals”, defined by our tastes, likes, possesions, the more we are conforming to societal, government and corporate expectations. A good consumer is one who surrounds himself by objects and people and “things” that are in constant agreement with their worldview. Why do you want to talk about something so personal, as you put it, with people who are uniquely like minded? So much about self discovery and affirming one’s own identity (not individuality), is about confrontations and discussions with those who think differently than you do.

    Your wording is intentionally going in circles and nowhere, but instead of being something Dadaist, or Stein-ish, it becomes almost comical in it’s empty questions and nonexistent answers.

    As my pie eating friend would ask, “What is truth?” I’d answer “It is beauty”. “What is beauty” “It is reason” “What is reason?” “Truth”. Then I’d hit him and walk away.

  14. 😈
    You’re growing up, Justine.
    About time you posted something so forcefully logical.

    “Your wording is intentionally going in circles and nowhere, but instead of being something Dadaist, or Stein-ish, it becomes almost comical in it’s empty questions and nonexistent answers.”

    “If there’s even a hair’s breadth of difference, heaven and earth are clearly separated.”

    If you ever study Buddhism, Justine, you’ll see where my “empty questions” and “nonexistent answers” come from. The fact is that there are no questions and there are no answers.

    “Why do you want to talk about something so personal, as you put it, with people who are uniquely like minded?”

    When I say like-minded people, I don’t mean people who hold the same opinions, I mean people who think with your logic. I, for one, cannot speak to people under the assumption that God exists. Even if I agree with their opinions, the assumption of God alienates our discussion. But someone who does not make that assumption, I can speak to on a logical level, even if his/her logic leads to a completely different viewpoint.

    “The world is moving closer and closer into “individualism” as the greatest virtue, which in fact is a hyprocracy as the more we become “individuals”, defined by our tastes, likes, possesions, the more we are conforming to societal, government and corporate expectations.”

    Go to Google Video and watch “The Century of the Self.”

    I don’t think I can comment on your first paragraph. I feel you are really misinterpreting what it is I’ve been trying to say. My message: Learn. Learn to learn.

  15. I have studied Buddhism, although not in depth. Those “empty questions”, force the person in question to reflect on their existence and mode of life. There are no conclusions, however baseless and only an extension of one’s own existence. In answering in a “straightforward” manner you are avoiding the question, and dismissing it as quickly as you are posing it. In essence, going against your beliefs about art and personal reflection as an individual expression and journey. If you are able to sum up the answer in a sentence, however more cryptic it is then the answer you are more often than not ignoring what is being asked, and failing to reflect on the issue or idea that is being raised. Questions be get more questions, this is a certainty, but the journey is rarely as straightforward or extra-personal as your musings suggest, or imply.

    As for thinking with the same logic, isn’t that by proxy still the same definition of surrounding yourself by people who share the same opinions as you? Even if you disagree (for example) that Libeled Lady is an enjoyable film or not, you share similar backgrounds and in discussion are depriving yourself of other world views that could potentially enhence your life experience and perception of the world. What if I told you I believed in God? Would that end all of our discussions, render them meaningless? Does the assumption of God as a presence remove all hope of logic? If we begin to tear apart other’s world perceptions we are not only projecting our own views onto them, but alienating ourselves and perpetuating the idea, however indirectly, that some people are more valuable than others. Using logic as the defence against the capability of having logical and conclusive discussion is the same (in my personal world view of course), as using the Darwin theory of evolution as defence against discriminating against other races and cultures. We all have their individual experiences that form us, and if we begin to close ourselves off from people who share or don’t share those ideas or experiences, we are depriving ourselves from knowledge but also self.

    If your message is Learn. Learn to learn, then why are you so close-minded about discussion, theory, film, people with different logical dispositions, the issue of -isms, etc. For me, learning is first and foremost opening yourself up, not closing yourself off. Something that I feel you are constantly doing. Not to mention, what you seem to perceive as encouraging free thought amongst your peers, which more often than not is you imposing your values on others, rather than opening up to alternate perceptions of discussion and the world.

  16. Is there a difference between thought and action? Between words and learning?

    Perhaps I AM closing myself off. Perhaps I am doing nothing but imposing my views on others. But then ask: Isn’t that all that opinion does? Are you not doing the EXACT same things when expressing your ideas?

    I vow not express any of my opinions on film to you ever again. *raises hand* OK, Justine? I’ll shut up and listen to everything everyone has to say.

  17. I know (hope) you’re joking, but either way I feel you’ve proven my point, at least in part. You’re crazy, and that’s why we like you.

  18. Also, I don’t think expressing ideas is imposing on others. I was in particular referencing your running of the Life Cinematic, and some of our conversations (not all mind you). You stand by what you believe in, which is admirable, but sometimes backing off is good too. I do enjoy talking with you honestly, sometimes you can be too intense for my little girly brain.

  19. “I know (hope) you’re joking”
    A vow’s a vow. No more opinion. I will, in fact, extend that to everyone, period. Hmm…

    TLC is way oppressive and I really don’t belong on online forums. It’s a good thing I’m not an admin and I hope people have actually learned to put up with my rants.

  20. You don’t :p but you can’t leave. Without you we would never question our online existence, you are a valuable service Mango. So much value. You are like Shirley Maclaine, in value. Lots of it. I’m SO tired. I’m sorry if I was mean to you.

  21. Woah. That was intense. You should both be more like me. Say as little as possible.

  22. No.

  23. Lovely blog Rouge. I’ve been meaning to comment on a few things, you’ve really seen a lot! Anyways I just wanted to chime in on this interesting conversation. I don’t know Mango, at least I don’t think I do, but opinions aren’t a matter of imposing, it’s exposing. Exposing your views on to others, and conversely, being exposed to the ideas of others.

    I think you get more out of the world from opening as many doors as possible, and not just open the doors that lead into buildings you like. I’m speaking metaphorically, so don’t go breaking into people’s homes. The one thing I know about Buddhism is that being open is important, because openess leads to compassion, and compassion leads to, er, something else, I haven’t gotten that far.

    Oh, I like Rouge’s long rants. It’s good that you have a lot of things to say and not shy to say it. Look forward to your review on Gun Crazy. I have a weak spot for films about couples with guns, including this one.

  24. You are pure awesome Mis, thanks for your lovely imput 🙂

    I feel so much pressure for this Gun Crazy thing, I started writing one today during a break at school. I have the paper lying around somewhere.

  25. The beautiful thing about Hitchcock is that you can enjoy this movies either as a scholar – analyzing their visual construction – or as an audience member, with popcorn and Twizzlers in lap, eating up the entertainment value. Rear Window might be the best model of this. Terrific article, Rouge.

  26. I completely agree, it’s why I love Hitchcock so much. I usually sit back and completely enjoy his films on the first viewing. You can get completely lost in it, and have the best time ever… then the second or third time I start to look for things, and you begin to realise how talented he is. I would never eat Twizzlers though, I think they’re icky :p


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