A few weeks ago Jim Groom and I watched Rear Window, a classic film on many levels- you cannot go wrong with picking a Hitchcock film to analyze. I hardly consider myself a film critic, and what I write below comes from my own perspective, not having read any reviews or Wikipedia entries.

The goal for a ds106 assigned bit of work was to try and read a movie in light of the concepts outlined by Roger Ebert, looking for the nuances of character placement, motion, etc.

The “window” is that which James Stewart’s character, stuck in his apartment with a broken leg, has become fixated looking out at as he reads the stories of his neighbors, going as far as convincing himself (and his girlfriend) (and his nurse) that a neighbor has murdered his wife.

The thing that caught my attention was how much telling Hitchcock creates with just the camera. The opening title sequence, that silently pans around L.B. Jeffries apartment, gives the back story on this character without any words, flashbacks, or narration, but we know something of who he is, what he does, that he has done dangerous things as a photographer.

The camera also sets the key scene of this New York setting by starting at the thermometer pegging the upper 90s, again telling without saying that it is sticky summer hot, and this is why people’w windows are open (as are their stories?).

The setting feels a bit more like a stage set than looking out the window- and Jeffries has a clear view and audio to what his neighbors are doing. This bit of him watching, feels in some way like how we would view life in the 1970s on TV, by changing channels. And maybe the next evolution was the late 1990s when Jennifer Ringley broadcast her window via the internet, JenniCam.

All of this is pre-echoed by Jeffries own addiction to seeing into the windows of his neighbors lives and yet, just barely suggests that his own window is just as open to them (?).

The story picks up intensity as Jeffries and his girlfriend (Lisa Fremont, played elegantly by Grace Kelly) get more convinced that the hulking neighbor Thorvald has killed his wife- there is no evidence, just observed arguments, and then a lack of appearance of the wife. Jeffries calls in favors with a cop, who dismisses the idea, and eventually the suspens builds as they create a ruse to lure Thorvold out of the apartment and Lisa climbs in (w window) to look for evidence.

The key scenes happen once Thorvold figures out what Jeffries is doing and comes into his apartment

The scene is ominously dark, almost black, and Thorvold appears in the upper (dominant) left position, very threatening, and only lit slightly. Jeffries is in the lower, right favorable position. The angle of left (Thorvold) down to right (Jeffries in a wheelchair) defines the power relation and action to come. As the confrontation increases, with Jeffries ironically using a flash bulb as a deterrent, again these positions are maintained, ultimately as Thorvold grabs Jeffries by the neck, and drops him through the very rear window that is at the crux of the movie (it becomes a weapon, and also a escape?).

Like the opening, the closing tells the story with just the camera motion starts at the thermometer, now at a more pleasant 70 degrees (the heat of the suspense being over)

And the camera moves from window to window where the ending stories in each apartment plays out again.

While a critique of this movie can chew on many pieces, to me, the camera work tells so much with so little fan fare. Like most Hitchcock films, Rear Window falls into the Thriller genre.

A number of tropes fit this movie- Jeffrie’s curiosity puts him in the Right Place, Right Time, Wrong Reason as a crime witness. It is also considered a Bottle Movie because all of the action takes place really in one set, Jeffrie’s apartment. One of the more interesting tropes of tis movie is the Kuleshov effect, where the same footage of Jeffrie’s face as an observer, generates different feelings form the audience depending on what scenes it is cut between:

Kuleshov put a film together, showing the expression of an actor, edited together with a plate of soup, a dead woman, and a woman on a recliner. Audiences praised the subtle acting, showing an almost imperceptible expression of hunger, grief, or lust in turn. The reality, of course, is that the same clip of the actor’s face was re-used, and the effect is created entirely by its superimposition with other images.

This is one I would be eager to go back to and look for more detail- there are a lot of cuts from the character looking out the window.

Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.

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