So one of my personal goals for this blog is to introduce you lovely people to classic cinema. When I have time, I will post write ups about some of my favourite films from the past. Hopefully I can open your eyes to some things you were unaware of even existed!
This time around, I would like to introduce you to a film called Rear Window. This film was directed by the great Alfred Hitchcock and released in 1954. Rear Window stars Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly. I’m going to give you a moment to google if you haven’t heard of Hitchcock, Stewart or Kelly (go ahead, I’ll wait). For those of you that are familiar with these greats, good on you!
Basically, this movie follows Stewart’s character after he breaks his leg during his job as a photographer. He becomes confined to a wheelchair in his apartment for a few weeks and grows incessantly bored. In his boredom he begins to observe the only entertainment available, the neighbours. Living in an apartment complex with a courtyard in the middle, he has no trouble peeping in on people’s lives. It is during this time that a couple across the courtyard capture his attention. After a quarrel that Stewart witnesses through the couples’ apartment window, the wife is never seen again, but her husband is seen doing quite a few curious things. His suspicions abound and he tries to figure out what happened through some amateur detective work, all the while, never leaving his apartment. Explaining his thoughts to his girlfriend (Kelly) she decides to help Stewart in collecting evidence to prove that the man killed his wife. Things become increasingly heated and suspenseful, and I won’t give away the ending for you.
With my lackluster attempt at a synopsis, let me tell you about the unique aspects that I love about Rear Window. The first interesting point is that the story takes place in one room. Hitchcock had tried this in an earlier film called Rope which unfortunately flopped. Hitchcock was determined to show that a story taking place in one room could work, and thus he tried with Rear Window, to much success. Despite being confined to a single room, Stewart’s character riveted attention through his expressions, dialogue, and actions.
The next interesting thing is that the camera was used as Stewart’s eyes. Essentially, the equation of the movie is Stewart will look out his window, the camera will show you what he is seeing, and then the camera will show his reaction to what’s he’s just seen. When he was peering out into the courtyard, or a neighbour’s window, the camera only saw what he saw. The camera panned around as if mimicking the movements of Stewart’s eyes. The audience is only privy to knowledge as Stewart himself, gleans it. This is, until one night when Stewart is sleeping and you get to know something Stewart doesn’t know. The camera pans over to the couples’ window and lets you in on a secret. At this point you are now one step ahead of Stewart, which adds to the suspense.
Rear Window gives you an honest glimpse into other people’s lives. Within the main story, there were many secondary stories. For example, across the courtyard in a studio apartment lives a young pianist. Through the film, you glimpse his struggle to create a new piece. Stewart sees him throwing sheet music in frustration, pacing his apartment, the moment he figures the piece out, and finally the party he hosts for his producers to unveil the piece. Another example is a woman Stewart nicknames “Miss Lonely Heart.” You get to witness her depressing downward spiral to attempted suicide. Stewart watches the woman acting out dinner dates, her leaving for a real date and coming home with the man but her hopes are dashed when the man tries to take advantage of her. Shortly after the woman tries to swallow a bunch of pills but Stewart notices what she’s doing and calls the police, who stop her before she can follow through. There are many other secondary stories but these two are my favourite.
Something interesting was also done in the casting. Most movies during this time had the man as an imposing, protective character. But Stewart is basically an invalid and utterly helpless. The female leads were usually dainty and in need of protecting. Kelly takes on the protective roll as she is sent to collect evidence and scale fire escapes as Stewart watches on. This twist gives the females characters some substance and a bit of grit. A true “girls can do anything boys can do.” The shows Kelly’s character as being adventurous and courageous, all the things Stewart’s character loves. But Kelly realizes she must morph into a perfect wife near the end of the film. She tries to cook dinner and switches reading her hiking magazine for a good housekeeping magazine. I found this ending to her character a little upsetting, as I don’t believe a woman should have to change for a man. But after a little more thinking, I realized I had to take into account the time and also Kelly’s frame of mind. She realized that Stewart was adventurous enough for the both of them, and he needed someone stable he could come home to that would keep him sane.
Oh, Technicolor. The film Rear Window was shot on was just beautiful. It’s difficult to describe why the coloring of the film is so important to me, but basically, it’s because the coloring sets the tone. Technicolor is just so rich and vibrant and saturated! This lent well to the environment, the lush green of the courtyard grass and rainbow coloring of the garden. The costumes were also enhanced. Many of the beautiful outfits Kelly wore popped right off the screen. The brightness and color also gave the film a light and joyous tone. Seeing as life around the complex was lively and never-ending, sometimes comedic, it only made sense to shoot in Technicolor. The light and joyous tone as well as the lively and sometimes comedic tone were also a great juxtaposition for a possible murder to occur. Such a heinous and sinister thing couldn’t happen in a place like that… could it?
Let’s transition over to themes. There are quite a few including:
– Stewart’s reluctance to settle down and get married to Kelly
– Is it right to stick your nose into your neighbours’ business?
– Intervening in a neighbour’s life to save their life
– The dynamics of various people from all walks of life
– Changing who you are for someone you love
– Everyone has their own struggle to overcome
I could go on and on but you get the point. Rear Window is a timeless classic. I can’t put into words the feel of the character, you would have to watch the film to understand them fully. The mix of humour, suspense, real life problems, and darkness are what make Rear Window so engrossing. Hitchcock had set out to redeem himself with Rear Window and he succeeded in doing so.