Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Why would a man leave his apartment three times on a rainy night with a suitcase and come back three times?

No 103 - Rear Window
Director - Alfred Hitchcock

I had watched this film before, a few years back, and I thought I knew pretty much what was happening. Especially towards the end. However, I'm embarrassed to admit that at times, what I've done is mix this film with the Simpson's episode lampooning it.
My mind appears to be a whirling blender of pop culture. Sometimes I'm not very good at sifting it.

On the plus side, it meant I was constantly being surprised by a film who's actual plot I had forgotten. The plot it self is delightfully simple. L.B 'Jeff' Jeffries (played by the always brilliant Jimmy Stewart) witnesses his neighbour acting very suspiciously and is gradually convinced that he has witnessed a murder. What is impressive is that Hitchcock leaves you guessing throughout the film. After all there are a lot of reasons why Jeff could be wrong, most of which are pointed out before the 'crime' is committed. It is unfeasibly hot and Jeff is in plaster and unable to move around. He is grouchy, bored, irritable, hot and just desperate for a distraction. If you look at the degree his curiosity turns into an all out obsession you can see just how desperate he is for something to focus on.
Gradually, during his obsessive pursuit, he manages to convert his nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) and his girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly - which, tragically, made me instantly think of the Mika song) and the three of them spend days watching their mysterious neighbour Lars Thorwald as he acts all mysteriously.

When you think about it, the crime that Thorwald is accused of by the trio of busybodies is pretty horrific. Not only has he murdered his wife, he has subsequently used a knife and a saw to hack her up into lots of little pieces. He has then transported those pieces out of his house, using his suitcase. In installments.
Throughout this process Lars continues to stay calm and calculated. If Jeff is correct then this isn't an act of passion, this is a cold and calculated killing with a lot of planning - it is this that starts to concern Jeff, the sheer cold heartedness and meticulousness of the crime. Made worse that nobody else believes him.
This is embodied by Jeff's convenient friend Lt Thomas J Doyle (Wendell Corey) who not only refuses to join in with the paranoia but who offers sound alternative theories and sometimes actual proof as to what could have happened. In fact he hardly gets roped in at all until the end. But it means nothing, Jeff, Lisa and Stella still have their obsession and focus on their theories, rather than anything which contradicts. Even the all out evidence is ignored. After all, you can prove anything with facts. If anything, this film is a tribute to all the curtain twitchers who are being paranoid, judgemental busybodies. One day you will have your moment of triumph.
However, oddly for such a taut and well made thriller, the story isn't the most exciting bit. Well, not for me. This film excited the design geek that lives inside my jaded heart due to the fantastic way it uses and films its set.
The set is immense. It is nice to think that a film which is almost entirely set in one corner of one room has such a massive sprawling and complicated set. Hitchcock built an entire street scene which his neighbours (at times little more than glorified extras) could live in. He even built a massive complicated lighting rig so that he could instantly flip to different points in the day. It makes me think of Synechdoche New York, but it also makes me think of theatre. It is very rare that a film is made in one setting, let alone one physical set. If the massive street could be replicated on stage, then a play of the film would easily work. We, don't get the freedom to explore this amazing set though, we're confined to view the lives of its inhabitants from Jeff's rear window. We're only allowed more clarity when Jeff decides to crack out the binoculars or his long zoom lens. Then we get to see their worlds in a little bit more detail, but we're still confined to the limitations of Jeff's viewpoint. It is a very brave move and one that helps make sure the audience is clamouring for information and verification, as they're in the same boat as the protagonist.
The one time that the rule is broken, doesn't really add anything to the film, but it does finally allow us to see up close the people we've been watching from afar. Their lives feel real, they seem to have real issues and in some ways I find the the endings to Miss Lonelyheart's arc and to Miss Torso's arc more satisfying than the ending to the main plot itself. But then they all add up together to show an overall happy ending for that community.


Anonymous said...

I love Grace Kelly in that film.

Captain James Amazing said...

There is a bit that I love where Jeff is talking about Miss Lonelyheart's toyboy and says that he is a bit young for her.

However, Grace Kelly was 21 years younger than James Stewart.

Are we not supposed to notice these things?