Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)

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Mr Sausage
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Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)

#1 Post by Mr Sausage » Wed Sep 30, 2020 11:20 am

DISCUSSION ENDS MONDAY, October 12th

Members have a two week period in which to discuss the film before it's moved to its dedicated thread in The Criterion Collection subforum. Please read the Rules and Procedures.

This thread is not spoiler free. This is a discussion thread; you should expect plot points of the individual films under discussion to be discussed openly. See: spoiler rules.

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Mr Sausage
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Re: Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)

#2 Post by Mr Sausage » Wed Sep 30, 2020 11:21 am

The subject for this round is the third runner up of the 1950's List Project. The three films above it on the list have already been on the club.

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therewillbeblus
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Re: Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)

#3 Post by therewillbeblus » Wed Sep 30, 2020 10:02 pm

This is one of those films that I recall in childhood being a huge letdown, coming off a Hitchcock run of either nonstop forward momentum action (i.e. North By Northwest) or wild twists (i.e. Vertigo), since it had neither- the killer is the only suspect and the 'action' takes place from a physically stagnant position. Yet it's a film that thrills me more and more each revisit, embracing the possibilities of observations around us by basking in the banal and transforming it into a personalized experience. The metaphor for voyeurism has been studied and analyzed to no end I'm sure (though I haven't read any of it that I can think of) but, as I mentioned briefly in the 50s thread, this film works at acknowledging both polar ends of the viewer spectrum, in problems and invaluable rewards. It's an exhibition of movie-watching's escapism, and specific obsessive-compulsive addiction to a process of depersonalization, including symptomatic criteria like choosing the safe fantasy over expectations of sacrifice for relationships in the real world (when you pick the independence of one's uncompromised imagination over Grace Kelly, you know something's up!) But the film is also very validating to our desire to participate in cinema, including passively enjoying, attempting to gain mastery, and engaging in analysis to uncover meaning and intent. Even further, there is an argument that we strengthen muscles of empathy and self-awareness in this kind of paradoxical participation-by-observing, and that we make meaning through objectively glancing at lovers loving, fighters fighting, partiers partying... and wavering our own definitions of self along the evaluation of subjectively relating to and assessing from that impartial stance, a secure way to look at ourselves in the mirror.

It's also a passionate validation to how invasive elements outside of our control can feel, overwhelming and trapping us, revealing our limitations of agency or our resistance to change- so even Kelly pampering Stewart is suffocating and unwelcome when he can't move or make his own decisions or even leave. That dependency is more frightening than anything in this film's murder plot, and as the camera moves around in their first scene together, it stays fixed in place, reflecting Stewart's emasculation while following others moving. Contrast this to the scenes of the camera glancing out into the open world and peering into spaces that don't require leaps to access a form of control. They're liberating and open. More than a film like Playtime, which I do like a lot, the process of 'perceiving,' here utilizing peripheral vision to signify details and formulate our own private unique connections with the content of life, has never been more beautifully portrayed. That Hitchcock finds ways to expose all facets of this layered relationship between a man and the world and turn the focus inward to the wants, needs, and fears of his psyche for the answers, is beyond genius. Similar to how Mann's westerns use characters' relationships with vast physical space as tangible forms of interaction that reveal the psychological emulations internally, this film uses a broad range of connotative activity between Stewart and all his eyes and ears can access, and juxtaposes the wide view outside to the restricted situation he's actually in, to encourage a dissection of the rationale for the drives born from his orientation - literal and created experiences, but all of them real to the beholder.

There is something artificially sublime about the bleeding of the worlds into one another that takes place here, that insinuates realistic ideals. What starts as incompatible, combative parts of his life become harmonious, as Kelly begins indulging Stewart's fantasies, followed by his caretaker, and friend. Stewart lowers his defenses to allow his own circle in as they respect his perspective and authenticate it as truth. And if we can do this in our personal lives -have our cake and eat it too by getting space to dream and be autonomous while exercising our abilities to be a present, compassionate partner- then perhaps on a different level, we can get what we need from cinematic voyeurism to bring back to these personal lives, applying skills and knowledge we learn in the movie to real life. We can and should contemplate such 'rear window ethics' regarding the consequences of our solipsism and meditations on the residual moral dilemmas of social interaction in all forms - but we also can and should just let them go sometimes, as Grace Kelly plainly decrees that she's in no position to assess them. We have the right to our power, our experience, and to have fun.
Last edited by therewillbeblus on Wed Sep 30, 2020 10:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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domino harvey
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Re: Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)

#4 Post by domino harvey » Wed Sep 30, 2020 10:50 pm

Rear Window Courtyard Residents List Project:

01 Miss Torso
02 Jeff
03 Miss Lonelyhearts
04 the Composer
05 the Petticoat Junction Girls
06 Thorwald and Wife
07 the Balcony-Sleepers
08 the Newlyweds
09 Miss Hearing Aid
10 Bird Woman

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Re: Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)

#5 Post by therewillbeblus » Wed Sep 30, 2020 11:00 pm

Love Miss Lonelyhearts. One of my favorite parts is when Stewart watches her as she anxiously goes to the restaurant to await her date, only to be disrupted by Thorwald popping up in his field of vision and reverting to that storyline. It's like a melodrama's channel getting changed to the murder mystery, but a reminder that there's a movie there too (and one I'm frankly more interested in nowadays). The best way I can describe the feeling is to think about when I was a kid looking out the window on a family car ride at all the cars going by, and realizing that there were entire lives with memories and experiences equal to mine inside of them, that I will never experience or know - and how cool and also sad that was as an egocentric kid wanting mastery over all.

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Re: Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)

#6 Post by colinr0380 » Thu Oct 01, 2020 11:58 am

She is a great character and of course Miss Lonelyhearts ends up wrestling the attention of the voyeurs back onto her later on, all the better to distract from the other protagonist's comings and goings!

This is my favourite Hitchcock although Rope is up there too and in a way Rear Window feels like a development of that 'limited location' aspect of the earlier film, just expanded out of the apartment into the wider community! I guess that the big difference is that instead of in Rope the audience being more attached to the killers being excited and obsessed by having their crime in almost full display of someone who may 'appreciate' it, in Rear Window those obsessed and excited by the potential of possible murder are more the audience identification characters whilst the actual criminal is just trying to live his life and get away with it but has just accidentally attracted unwanted attention! (A bit like Shadow Of A Doubt in some ways!) Then when he finally breaks the fourth wall and comes into James Stewart's/our apartment to confront directly it is both scary and kind of embarrassing for all involved, as if having been caught looking is as bad (if not worse) than being caught in the act of murder itself.

Thorwald himself seems extremely threatening from a distance (with all the glowering looks and smouldering cigarettes) but rather diminished face to face, as he tries to figure out exactly for what reason Jeff has been hounding him (which makes it perfect that the tool used to stall him is a flashbulb constantly going off, blinding and startling him in the light of exposure as if he was an object of paparazzi interest). The murderer ends up being strangely sympathetic/pathetic in his bewildered bemusement about how his crime of passion has been foiled. All he wanted to do was clean up! I guess that means that as well as a development from Rope, Rear Window looks ahead to the much more sympathetic figure of Norman Bates in Psycho too, where his long and methodical clean up and body disposal is observed by nobody but the audience alone in the theatre, the James Stewart identification figure having been undermined and swept out of the picture in the fugue of Vertigo just prior.

Though that final confrontation is incredibly necessary, not just for breaking the fourth wall or providing an expected action climax to an otherwise distanced film (though it is one of the most thrilling films I have ever seen exactly for that detachment, allowing for intellectual observation and deduction rather than the usual mechanics that thriller films use to create tension) but for the way that if that confrontation had not occurred and if Thorwald had been caught by other means, then Jeff would have remained a rather blithe figure. In the upset villian coming into his apartment to berate him directly for all of his prank phone calls, voyeurism and even getting his girlfriend to break and enter, Jeff himself has to answer for having done all of those things himself. Especially having put Lisa into such danger (Lisa and Stella perhaps are less in need of 'punishment' because they start out making the points of minding one's own business and get 'seduced' into the situation that Jeff alerts them to. The implication being that they would never have been voyeurs to such an extent on their own (Lisa being more into fashion magazines, though she gets a taste for travel by the end!) and need an incapacitated photojournalist to clue them into the drama on their own doorstep. Does that also maybe imply that photojournalists are too busy dodging danger in warzones for 'safe' and expected photos when they might find as much of worth to focus on in their own backyard?).

Lisa and Stella break the fourth wall first, as Jeff sends them out like proxy explorers 'into' the cinema screen, where they can wander around, knock on people's doors, dig up flowerbeds and eventually enter apartments that are otherwise completely off limits to our hero. So Thorwald coming into Jeff's apartment for the climax is perhaps just him returning the favour! Suddenly the voyeur is seen and things are demanded of him. He has to be resourceful himself rather than relying on others to put themselves on the line for him. He pays for his voyeurism by being unable to maintain that safe distance, but that climax of having to fight off Thorwald is what makes Jeff heroic too because he actually has to confront rather than hide away. I guess it is rather sadistic (in an amusing Hitchcock way) to end up having the other leg broken too, and in some ways he deserves it, but he has earned his convalescence time this time around!

(I do often wonder what the events of the film would have looked like from the perspective of Thorwald's apartment looking across the way back into Jeff's apartment! Maybe any remake should do the 'countershot' version of Rear Window!)
Last edited by colinr0380 on Fri Oct 02, 2020 3:01 am, edited 8 times in total.

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Re: Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)

#7 Post by therewillbeblus » Thu Oct 01, 2020 1:59 pm

That final confrontation works on so many strange levels, in addition to serving as that meeting of reality and fantasy and confronting shame and consequences as you outline. Thorwald doesn't enter with menace but stands in the doorway, non-threatening, pleading with Jeff for a) information on Jeff's reason to take on this role, b) offering him money, c) asking if he can get the ring back. Only after Jeff continues to play into the tough guy movie-character role, refusing to engage Thorwald in his rather politely-phrased and open-ended negotiable requests, does Thorwald succumb to a naturally human self-preserving response and try to murder Jeff as a last resort. I know many often muse about character in films making inarticulate choices that aren't realistic which ultimately misses the point of the emphasized moral core, but Jeff's choice to remain silent and sharply deny a conversation to even buy time (sometimes that's been a key intervention strategy throughout the film) is ludicrous and emblematic of Jeff's drive to become that depersonalized Hero under all costs, against the grain of the low-energy realism that's actually being presented to him. Hitchcock subverts all expectations in the finale- Thorward's meek demeanor, the suspenseful throwing of the gun to the cop buddy only for the agents inside to apprehend him out of sight preventing a shootout (so clearly deliberate from the angles we get), and then Thorwald confessing in what seems like too few seconds to even regurgitate a plan to the police if he was an experienced auctioneer. Jeff deserves that second leg breaking not because of his snooping but because he sacrificed real-life strategy for displaced-fantasy assertiveness in a moment that could have gone very differently. Jeff is practically begging for action so that he can use his camera as a defensive weapon and participate some more, an expectation already set for himself rigidly going into the scene. Facing himself as a handicapped man buying time would be an admittance of his powerlessness, limitations, and bring him into the reality that he wants no part of. He'll even risk dying to keep up the charade. That nobody else- not Thorwald or Hitchcock- seems to be playing by Jeff's rules, only reinforces the spotlight on his psychological discord.

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Re: Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)

#8 Post by Jack Phillips » Thu Oct 01, 2020 4:02 pm

Given the importance of music in the film, it may be helpful to have a list of the musical cues in RW (which, apparently, are all supposed to be diegetic). According to Jack Sullivan (Hitchcock's Music, 2006), the cue sheet "lists 39 songs, ballets, 'improvisations,' boogies, and 'jukeboxes' . . . ." Sullivan is a bit stingy with the info, though, and I was able to educe only 21 (with IMDb supplementing Sullivan):

"Rear Window Prelude and Radio" (Waxman)
Rumba for Miss Torso (Waxman)
Excerpt from "Fancy Free" (Bernstein)
"Lisa" and Piano Improvisation (Waxman)
Excerpt from A Place in the Sun (Waxman)
"To See You (Is to Love You)" (Van Heusen-Burke)
"Lover" (Rodgers)
Piano boogie-woogie (Walter Gross)
"That's Amore" (Warren)
"Spring Song" (Mendelssohn)
"New Ballet" (Waxman)
"Mona Lisa" (Livingston-Evans)
"Lady Killer" (Livingston-Evans)
"Many Dreams Ago" (Waxman-David)
"Jukebox No. 6" (Waxman)
Instrumental excerpt from "Red Garters" (Livingston-Evans)
"Lisa" instrumental run through (Waxman)
Martha, oder Der Markt zu Richmond (von Flotow)
Il carnevale di Venezia (Paganini)
Balettmusik, nr 2, G-dur. (Schubert)
"Lisa" Finale (Waxman-Rome)

If anyone can supply what's missing, I'd be obliged.

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Re: Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)

#9 Post by Rayon Vert » Thu Oct 01, 2020 6:20 pm

"Waiting for My True Love to Appear" is apparently another pop song featured, heard when Miss Lonelyhearts enters the restaurant. (source)

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Re: Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)

#10 Post by Jack Phillips » Fri Oct 02, 2020 10:19 am

Rayon Vert wrote:
Thu Oct 01, 2020 6:20 pm
"Waiting for My True Love to Appear" is apparently another pop song featured, heard when Miss Lonelyhearts enters the restaurant. (source)
Thank you very much. I was unaware of the source article, which is certainly worth reading.

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