Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Unit 4: Story Telling - Review - Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window

Figure 1. Rear Window Poster Art

Rear Window is a reflection on the viewer; we watch, observe & draw our own conclusions to the prescience in front of us. Once we suspect we rationalise our suspicions with what we consider is undeniable truth. It is of reasonable doubt & our internal need to understand that makes Rear Window a success on multiple levels.

•Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
•Written by: John Michael Hayes & Cornell Woolrich
•Cast: James Stewart as L.B. Jeffries, Grace Kelly as Lisa Carol Fremont, Wendell Corey as Detective Thomas J. Doyle, Thelma Ritter as Stella the nurse, Raymond Burr as Lars Thorwald & Judith Evelyn as Miss Lonely Heart
•Genre: Drama, Mystery, Suspense & Classics
•Duration: 112 Minutes (aprox)

Figure 2. "We’ve become a race of peeping toms”

...We sure have but rarely do we glare into people’s lives to the point that we cannot look away. LB Jeffries is the exception, bored out of his brains waiting for a Leg injury to heal. Jeffries begins glaring at other people’s lives & using them as one would use channels on a television set. The dancing woman across the way is your erotic channel, the depressed woman downstairs is your drama & the man directly opposite you is the man who just killed his wife. Rear Window is built on the premise of everyone with the exception of the central protagonist who acts as a judge of sorts, weighing right and wrong while breaching the basics of privacy. Reviewer Vincent Canby observes:
“At the time "Rear Window" was first released, there was a certain amount of self-righteous outrage directed at the film's seemingly casual attitude toward voyeurism, sometimes called Peeping Tomism. I was mystified by those criticisms, then and now, and not necessarily because all of us probably tend to peep at one point or another, given the opportunity.” (Canby: 1983)
While the argument is valid, one cannot help but feel as though ones right to peep should not be considered controversial especially when someone could be in danger. Hitchcock’s narrative for rear window didn’t necessarily focus on anything then what one would consider as a normal day (with the exception of the suspicious Jewellery salesman played by Raymond Burr). One could argue that Jeffries glances into the other windows just conveyed how normal life could be in contrast with one that is ambiguous. To say that rear window justifies peeping tomism is an under sight because it wasn’t about a nosey neighbour, it was about a guy who had nothing to do but watch other people go about their normal routine.

Figure 3. "Just how would you start to cut up a human body?”

All the other stories displayed by the rear window become secondary when the Jewellery salesman’s wife ends up missing; from there Jeffries begins preparing for late nights with long lenses. The opposing building ends up becoming a focal set where people can be seen coming and going. The windows are conveniently placed to reveal seating positions with an off camera divide between the bedroom & living area. The film is shot entirely from a distance with the close camera cues reserved for the impeding cast of onlookers. The distant shots make the film feel more diverse & separate from the cast an ideal which becomes more terrifying when the cast cross into the opposing building & meet their inevitable undoing. Reviewer Radheyan Simonpillai observes:
“The scariest moment takes place when the murder suspect looks back at Jeff from across the street, threatening his privileged viewing position. And it happens right about the same time as when the audience clues in to that previously mentioned bit of misdirection, when we realize that we’re not just watching a movie but Hitchcock’s looking at us from across the screen”. (Simonpillai: 2010)
The more terrifying moment without a doubt is Thorwald’s realisation of Jeffries peeping Tomism something that they both know will not be discussed rationally. What is particularly terrifying here is Jeffries inability to protect himself, a narrative device strategically placed as if the viewer had their feet in concrete. In the end the inevitable conversation between hero & villain only this time with the hero powerless & the villain only too eager to satisfy his curiosity. This moment just makes the viewer consider what they would say to someone they had been spying on, having seen them commit murder. One would have to conclude that there really isn’t anything to say which is conveyed perfectly by Jeffries refusal to speak to Thorwald.

Figure 4. "Maybe I can get him out of that apartment”

Rear Window is a testament to Hitchcock’s vision of effective camera direction to convey narrative. Nothing is exploitive, nobody is even judged succinctly, the adjacent windows are just Hitchcock’s way of editing - no action is happening here, cut, now what’s happening in this window, zoom. The lack of sound to these adjacent lives just adds to the mystery, causing one to subject themselves to an inner monologue in their own minds. Rear Window is bold & it works purely because everything about it is normal in contrast to abnormal, the audience can weigh right and wrong but not act on it, Jeffries can weigh right and wrong & is acting on it. Reviewer David Sterritt observes:
"Rear Window" also played to Hitchcock's fondness for exploring bold stylistic and technical ideas. He relished the challenge of turning traditional cinema on its head - limiting an entire movie to a single room and the view from its window, and filming nearly all the suspense scenes in long-distance shots with a minimum of comprehensible sound.” (Sterritt: 2000)
Rear window would be hard to imagine as anything but a film shot from a distance. Some films just have a way of enticing the audience. Rear Window is a testament to those principles thought otherwise as limitations. Where one could see a distant shot as a soundless curiosity Hitchcock could see someone’s life occupying this space for this moment in time for their reasons. Rear Window is not just a story; it’s an array of sub-stories with a central plot. What better way to scare an audience then to show them that if they were to watch someone do something wrong, that the person would see them & inevitably track them down & walk in through the back of the cinema.


List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Rear Window Poster Art. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 15/02/12)

Figure 2. We’ve become a race of peeping toms. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 15/02/12)

Figure 3. Just how would you start to cut up a human body? (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 15/02/12)

Figure 4. Maybe I can get him out of that apartment. (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on: 15/02/12)



Canby, Vincent. (1983) Rear Window - Still a Joy At:
(Accessed on: 15/02/12)

Simonpillai, Radheyan. (2010) Rear Window Review At: (Accessed on: 15/02/12)

Sterrit, David. (2000) Hitchcock's genius on view in 'Window'. At:
(Accessed on: 15/02/12)

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