Sunday, February 03, 2008

Rear Window

In many ways 'Rear Window' is textbook Hitchcock.

You've got a beleaguered hero - photographer L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart), laid up with a broken leg - trying to prove something the authorities give him no credence for (cf. 'The Man Who Knew Too Much' - either version).

You've got a glacially elegant heroine - Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly) - who is effortlessly sophisticated and upon whom Hitch's camera lingers besottedly (cf. 'Dial M for Murder', again starring Grace Kelly, Eva Marie Saint in 'North by Northwest', Tippi Hedren in 'The Birds' and 'Marnie').

You've got a villain - Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr, he of 'Ironside' and 'Perry Mason' fame) - who exudes real menace.

You've got a streak of the perverse running all the way through it - the key theme of 'Rear Window' in one word: voyeurism - pre-empting the darker concerns of 'Psycho' (mother fixation and serial murder), 'Vertigo' (psycho-sexual obsession and, metaphorically anyway, necrophilia) and 'Marnie' (mental instability, sexual manipulation and rape).

You've got the repartee, sharp dialogue and romantic suplot that offsets the darker aspects.

You've got the technical artistry that testify to Hitchcock's mastery of the medium - the use of filters during the climactic scene where Jeffries disorientates his attacker by setting off flashbulbs; the edgy, intrusive way that the camera prowls the back windows that Jeffries' apartment looks out in, peeking into other people's lives, spying on them. With the exception of Michael Powell's 'Peeping Tom' and a breathtaking two-and-a-half-minute Louma crane shot in Dario Argento's 'Tenebrae', nobody has made a co-voyeur out of the audience so effectively, and done it with so much style, as Hitchcock does in 'Rear Window'.

And now I have to make a confession ...

I find 'Rear Window' - at least during its first hour - ever so slightly dull. I can appreciate it, for all of the reasons listed above, but I find myself glancing at the clock, wandering into the kitchen for a drink from the fridge, thinking about fixing myself a quick snack. Basically killing time until Hitch starts generating tension and suspense in the second half.

I also find myself wondering why none of the apartment block residents have net curtains particularly the ballerina who spends most of her time practising in her underwear. Why one of the few residents who has venetian blinds keeps them at an angle whereby the interior of her apartment is still visible. Why everyone has their windows open all the time, even at night or when they're out. I wonder why Jeffries bothers checking out the ballerina when his girlfriend's played by Grace Kelly.

I find myself thinking of at least a dozen films I'd pick first if I fancied a night in with a bottle of wine and a first-rate Hitchcock.

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