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Oliver Bennett
Oliver Bennett

Rear Window


Professional photographer L.B. 'Jeff' Jeffries breaks his leg while getting an action shot at an auto race. Confined to his New York apartment, he spends his time looking out of the rear window observing the neighbors. When he begins to suspect that a man across the courtyard may have murdered his wife, Jeff enlists the help of his high society fashion-consultant girlfriend and his visiting nurse to investigate.




Rear Window



key to this is the wandering, observational camera hitchcock establishes in the opening moments, every time a piece of information contradicts the narrative jeffries has projected/suggested on the images out his window he and the camera are immensely disappointed and almost immediately digress to the next image in hopes of finding something, anything. it doesn't matter that he's eventually right about the murder because any moral reasoning for his voyeurism is undone by his untenable yearning for a story. preferably a horny, dangerous one. sound familiar?


Premiering during primetime on the ABC Network in 1998, the new Rear Window starred none other than the late, great Christopher Reeve (taking over the role filled by James Stewart in the Hitchcock film), who returned to the screen after his terrible accident in 1995. Reeve plays quadriplegic Jason Kemp, a former architect who now uses a specially equipped wheelchair after months spent recovering from a terrible car accident. He returns to his home, now a technologically advanced haven, which has been equipped to his needs. Anxious to return to some semblance of normalcy, Jason relieves the boredom of his daily existence by engaging in spying on his neighbors from the rear window of his apartment.


In REAR WINDOW, Jeff (James Stewart), a photojournalist, is confined to a wheelchair after breaking his leg shooting a car race. Now he recuperates in his Greenwich Village flat, getting occasional visits from his gorgeous model-girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly) and putting up with a visiting nurse. Bored by immobility and equipped with an arsenal of binoculars and telephoto SLR lenses within reach, Jeff amuses himself by spying on his neighbors across the courtyard, from his rear window. Jeff finds that each tenant, some lonely, some oversexed, embodies a different pathology of male-female relationships. At first it's funny to Jeff, seeing a newlywed woman wearing down her husband with frequent lovemaking and a solitary bachelorette going dateless night after night. But then there's a burly guy named Lars (Perry Mason's Raymond Burr), unhappily married to a nag. Jeff becomes convinced that Lars has just snapped and murdered his wife, then possibly dismembered her body in packing cases. But is Jeff correct? And how can he convince someone? And what if the menacing Lars discovers he's been watched?


The tension gets so exquisite in this film that viewers unaware of its reputation might almost miss the cinematic gimmick that made it quite an achievement: it never leaves Jeff's room. Not once. Whole college courses have centered around Rear Window, Alfred Hitchcock's fiendish, compact, and sometimes lighthearted film.The POV outside Jeff's rear window into the other windows is like looking into an array of TV screens (or comic-strip panels), the little New York stories unfolding in each one, often simultaneously (and, yes, that's Ross Bagdassarian, creator of the cartoon characters Alvin & the Chipmunks, as a songwriter).


Voyeurism is the act of observing the lives of others, often, but not always, for sexual gratification. It is a process through which people gain more satisfaction from viewing than living. There's a little bit of the voyeur in all of us - after all, going to a movie is nothing more than opening a window into the lives of others (fictional or real). It's a non-participatory experience that offers pleasure through the most simple of actions: watching. Therefore, it's no surprise that the motion picture industry has, from time to time, examined this aspect of the human experience. Movies about voyeurism come in all varieties - everything from serious studies to light, exploitative fare. The options are as varied as the activity.


One of the most engrossing, and, in its own way, groundbreaking, studies of voyeurism is Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window. The film is universally regarded as a classic, and a strong cadre of critics, scholars, and fans (myself included) considers this to be the director's best feature. Not only does the movie generate an intensely suspenseful and fascinating situation, but it develops a compelling and memorable character: L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart), a top-flight photographer who, as the result of an accident that left him in a leg cast, is confined to his upper-story Manhattan apartment. He amuses himself by gazing out his window at the building opposite, and builds pictures of each of the inhabitants from the glimpses he catches of their lives. Some of them, like "Miss Torso," a lithe young ballerina who capers around in various stages of dress, and "Miss Lonelyhearts," a forlorn spinster, keep their curtains wide open. Others, like a newlywed couple, pull down the blinds, leaving Jefferies to smile wryly as he guesses about their activities.


As Jefferies' days of confinement wear on, his fascination with his neighbors turns into an obsession. Their lives become more important than his. After all, they are vital and mobile; he is trapped and impotent. In his own words, he has had "six weeks sitting in a two-room apartment with nothing to do but look at the neighbors." He has a charming and gorgeous young girlfriend, Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly), but he is emotionally cool towards her, and their relationship is caught in the same stasis that paralyzes every other aspect of Jefferies' life. When he gropes for a reason why she wouldn't make a good wife, the only fault he can find is that she's "too perfect, too talented, too beautiful, and too sophisticated." Lisa may love him, but she is losing patience. Then, one day, Jefferies observes something that forces him to abandon his safe, cocooned role as a voyeur and become a participant. He sees - or thinks he sees - one of his neighbors, Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), commit a murder. When the police don't believe Jefferies, he is forced to take action without their help. Abetted by Lisa, he works to uncover evidence to prove that a crime was committed. However, with his mobility restricted, Jefferies can only watch through his rear window as Lisa puts herself in harm's way, and, when danger strikes, he is helpless to go to her rescue.


It is during the third part of Rear Window, when Jefferies and Lisa team up to investigate the murder, that Hitchcock ratchets up the tension. Virtually the entire film is shown through Jefferies' window, including the sequence when Lisa slips into the killer's apartment. We view events from afar, and, like Jefferies, feel the weight of paralyzing powerlessness when Thorwald returns unexpectedly. Trapped in his room, there's no way Jefferies can warn Lisa or act to rescue her. All he (and we) can do is watch.


Hitchcock was always respected for stylistic experiments, and Rear Window is an example of an approach that worked brilliantly. With the exception of a few crucial shots during the climax, every scene in the movie is presented from within Jefferies' apartment. The camera stays with him, trapped within the confines of his room, never venturing outside, even when Lisa goes on her fact-finding mission. Events that occur outside of the window's view happen off-screen. The only time a character becomes real is when they appear in a window facing Jefferies' building or when they enter the room with him.


This film masterpiece was made entirely on one confined set built at Paramount Studios - a realistic courtyard composed of 32 apartments (12 completely furnished) - at a non-existent address in Manhattan (125 W. 9th Street). Each of the tenants of the other apartments offered an observant comment of marriage and a complete survey of male/female relationships (all the way from honeymooners to a murderous spouse), as the main protagonist watched / spied / and spectated through his 'rear window' on them. Remarkably, the camera angles were largely from the protagonist's own apartment, so the film viewer (in a dark theatre) saw the inhabitants of the other apartments almost entirely from his point of view - to share in his voyeuristic surveillance.


Underneath the credits, jazz music plays as the bamboo shades rise slowly over four vertically-rectangular windows in a small Greenwich Village apartment. The camera tracks out through the windows, showing the surrounding Lower East Side apartment buildings, lower courtyard and garden. A camera pan follows a meowing cat up a wide set of steps in the foreground of the courtyard, and then keeps moving up to a wide pan of almost the entire complex. Tracking back into the open apartment window, the occupant is asleep, sweating profusely. It is 94 degrees on the thermometer - during a heat wave. Next door in the adjacent loft (of a composer), a radio blares a commercial as its lathered-up occupant shaves:


When his editor calls on the phone, he sees two females on the roof terrace across the way crouch down behind the wall to nude sunbathe - they take off their pajamas. A low-flying helicopter soon approaches to spy on the women. Jeff also observes his neighbors' activities outside his window, especially the dancer who attracts his prurient interest, especially when she wiggles her behind. It is learned that seven weeks earlier, he sustained his fractured-leg injury in a crash while he was photographing a car race from the middle of the track to get a "dramatic" photo. The cast will come off a week later: "Next Wednesday I emerge from this plaster cocoon."


Incapacitated and bored, he spends his time staring out the window watching (prying on) his neighbors through the windows of the apartments on the opposite side of the complex's courtyard. Between the side/rear walls of the apartment buildings is a narrow alleyway leading to the street. 041b061a72


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