Thursday, March 1, 2012
Probably we all know the plot of this movie. It's been referenced and remade many times. Two notable examples being Body Double (which I think I watched simply because of how much it's referenced in the book American Psycho) and Disturbia (which I didn't see but looked like it was about as awesome as a box of farts). Even though Rear Window is familiar, I personally have always found that it's still really tense and exciting to watch. I mean, I know what happens in the most tension-filled scenes, and I still find it makes me squirmy. We all know Hitchcock is amazing at tension. Can I contribute something new to this discussion? We will find out.
So. The plot anyway, because that's what I do in these posts and I obviously can't stray from that format. Jeff is a famous photographer who is currently confined to a wheelchair with a broken leg, the cast aching all the way up to his hip. He is trapped in his apartment, only visited by his nurse Stella and his girlfriend Lisa. He spends his time peeping on his neighbors in their apartments, giving them nicknames and watching their every move. He often checks in to spy on a man and his wife. She stays in bed all day and he must tend to her every need...until she disappears. Things are suspicious about all of it. The man, Mr. Thorwald, is suddenly packing up his things to leave. A dog that snuffles the flower beds outside too much is suddenly found dead. Jeff soon gets Lisa and Stella engrossed in this plot as well - was someone murdered, or are others just being drawn into Jeff's deluded conclusions?
Voyeurism is obviously wrong, but it's one of the things that really connects the audience with the movie. As Ebert points out in his review, aren't all movie watchers voyeurs? Plus, we love peeping. You can't deny it. I know that you, like everyone else, cannot resit the allure of creeping on Facebook. We cannot get enough of watching other people's lives. I think it's such a genius and easy way to get viewers immediately invested in the film. We get super engrossed right away, because we like this sort of thing, and we want to hang around more and put together the pieces with Jeff. Possibly this is why the tension feels so effortless and real - we're really invested and interested. And we are sort of complicit in the action, I guess. It's not in your face about it like Funny Games or something, but it's like, "Hey, you wanted to watch them, too. Here's what happens as a result."
I love, so much, that this movie has a forced perspective. We see everything from Jeff's point of view. When Lisa sneaks into Mr. Thorwald's apartment, we don't get to come with. We have to stay behind with Jeff and watch it from a distance, missing out on dialogue, missing the portions of the rooms that are obscured without windows. I don't want to say this because I feel like it could be misconstrued, but it's similar to why people get so scared by found footage movies. No no no, I am not comparing Papa Hitchcock, Master of Tension to something as shitty as The Blair Witch Project, but Hitchcock-level tension is sort of what found footage movies are going for, you know? By restricting our perspective, what we actually end up seeing, we feel more afraid - we fear what is happening just outside of the frame. And it makes us feel powerless. We can't stop things we see edging in on different shots. We're distanced from the action, just voyeurs...just like Jeff. For me, I end up really connecting with Jeff in this movie, partially because I really only know and see what he knows and sees. When he is threatened, I feel the suspense. Are the police coming to save him? I don't know - I'm not over there with the police. I'm stuck in Jeff's apartment with Jeff.
I feel like I have to briefly hit on how important montage is in the movie. Blah blah blah, something about Russian cinema and Battleship Potemkin. Here is the "my parents really want to not have wasted their money on all those film classes" summary of montage. Back in the day montage was this really new and exciting idea, because until some old Russian dude invented it, no one really used such techniques. It was a pretty big deal when people realized you could cut together unrelated images and people would come to some similar conclusion about those images on their own. It's dumb to explain montage now because it's so commonplace, we all inherently understand it. But this was like, a big subversive idea full of power and suggestion back in the day. Rear Window really couldn't exist without montage, because it's how we figure out there may have been a murder. We see unrelated things - the wife's empty bed, the husband packing, a saw, a dog digging in freshly altered flowerbed - and we are lead, via those suggestions, to a conclusion. Anyway, you could of read all this on the rest of the internet. I'm bringing it up because I think that it's part of what makes the film so effective and tense. I feel like we have more faith and investment in conclusions that we come to on our own. Think of how excited people get when they put together clues in a film and figure out the twist before the end (or just think they did). It's like a mini version of that. If we had just seen a murder, we'd probably be interested, but a little "eeeehhhh.". But because we think we figured out the murder (even though it was just suggested to us via images), we're a little more excited, more into the plot, because, hey, we put this all together, man. We're just...more manipulated this way. Which is pretty masterful.
That was long and holy shit, could I have named any more movies that are not really related to Rear Window at all? If you haven't seen it, you really need to watch it. It's really fun, it feels short and exciting, and it's just got a great cast and story. It's clearly masterfully made, and even knowing what happens next, I find myself still feeling tension whenever I watch it. Yay! This was certainly a post. Welcome back, Me.
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Rear Window
Buy or rent it on Amazon
Bart of Darkness - the Simpson's parody of Rear Window.
I was going to link to a video but all the sites I found made me feel like I'd get viruses if I clicked so actually watching it is up to you.