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Attica

Rear Window

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I can hardly believe that there isn't a thread for Rear Window, at least that I could find.

Anyhow. This is kind of cool.

Rear Window’ time-lapse panorama

Edited by Attica

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Hard to believe, too, that there isn't a thread. Thanks for posting that link, Attica - it really shows how masterful Hitch was in his storytelling continuity.

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Hard to believe, too, that there isn't a thread. Thanks for posting that link, Attica - it really shows how masterful Hitch was in his storytelling continuity.

Yeah. It's pretty impressive. Not just with Hitch but also with the guy who put it together.

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Weird. I was just thinking about how there hadn't been an "Ahem" on this board since ... since ... well, since about the time Orthodox Lent started. :)

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Welles did not like REAR WINDOW:

"I've never understood the cult of Hitchcock. Particularly the late American movies … Egotism and laziness. And they're all lit like television shows … I saw one of the worst movies I've ever seen the other night [
Rear Window
] … Complete insensitivity to what a story about voyeurism could be. I'll tell you what is astonishing. To discover that Jimmy Stewart can be a bad actor … Even Grace Kelly is better than Jimmy, who's overacting."

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Have to admit, I thought this was going to lead to an article featuring Jeffrey, not Orson (should have looked closer at the spelling).

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Welles did not like REAR WINDOW:

"I've never understood the cult of Hitchcock. Particularly the late American movies … Egotism and laziness. And they're all lit like television shows … I saw one of the worst movies I've ever seen the other night [
Rear Window
] … Complete insensitivity to what a story about voyeurism could be. I'll tell you what is astonishing. To discover that Jimmy Stewart can be a bad actor … Even Grace Kelly is better than Jimmy, who's overacting."

One can't be right all the time.

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Posted (edited)

Well, in my current Hitchcock binge and attempt to better categorize his films, it is becoming clear that this is a near impossible task. He crosses too many eras, themes, and technical achievements. 

But I can fully sympathize with those who keep Rear Window in the top 3 of their favorites. It features the bulk of his technical flourishes, one of the best (the best?) actor/actress pairings (with ridiculously well-delivered dialogue), and a ton of fairly sordid psychology lurking right beneath the surface. The first sequence is as riveting as any Tati, especially with the similarly perfect integration of soundtrack. 

And it is just a captivating film. What I am trying to assess better in Hitchcock this year is the physicality of his work. It has a rhythm driving us through each scene in camera movements that attribute a sense of performance to the actors which does not actually exist. These gestures are latent in composition, pacing, subtle and precise camera movement, etc... Hitchcock's direction creates something which only exists in the cinema, and I am enjoying seeing these... phantasms... as they occur. I have the suspicion now that his work is so central in cinema conversation because this key element of cinema is seen more vividly in Hitchcock than anyone else in his era(s) - not because his work is more intellectually or psychological substantial from other contemporary directors.

And Rear Window is full of great examples. The end in particular sounds awful on paper, but the repetitive flash of light, red frame, and cuts between the two faces develops an inordinate sense of dread. In the special math of cinema, the elements collude to evoke something far greater than the sum of the parts. Something similar happens in the editing between Stewart and Kelly, which are remarkably kinetic even though Stewart never actually moves

 

Edited by M. Leary

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Beautiful observations, M.

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2 hours ago, M. Leary said:

The end in particular sounds awful on paper, but the repetitive flash of light, red frame, and cuts between the two faces develops an inordinate sense of dread.

A great scene, although it never fails to provoke nervous laughter from my young students. Something to do with Thorwald's lumbering progression toward Jeff, his improbable inability to foil his tormentor (why doesn't he just take off his glasses and rush him?), the neighbors clamoring in fast-forward to investigate the commotion, and, of course, the vertiginous rear-projected plunge off the balcony to the ground below.

And every time, the highlight of each screening comes just a few scenes before, with Thorwald's chilling stare into the telephoto lens (and into the audience), the approaching footsteps on the stairwell and perfectly timed "click" of the hall light switch, and Thorwald's apparition-like appearance at the door in which he seems to be stepping off the movie screen and into your personal space...

2 hours ago, M. Leary said:

It has a rhythm driving us through each scene in camera movements that attribute a sense of performance to the actors which does not actually exist.

This is an intriguing observation! Can I press you to explain a little more, and perhaps name an example?

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5 minutes ago, Nathaniel said:

And every time, the highlight of each screening comes just a few scenes before, with Thorwald's chilling stare into the telephoto lens (and into the audience), the approaching footsteps on the stairwell and perfectly timed "click" of the hall light switch, and Thorwald's apparition-like appearance at the door in which he seems to be stepping off the movie screen and into your personal space..

5 minutes ago, Nathaniel said:

 

This is an intriguing observation! Can I press you to explain a little more, and perhaps name an example?

I love the direction at the end of Rear Window, excepting a few of the "response" shots of the neighbors once they start fighting. Once Thorwald starts lumbering toward Jeff, the film becomes what it has always been - a horror film in which Jeff has been hiding from a monster. In their climactic encounter Jeff discovers his own total impotence. We feel that fear intensely. And yet, Thorwald keeps moving in stages toward Jeff. The surrealism (whose surface elements are absolutely comedic) is so harrowing.

Examples... I wish I had taken notes on this.

1. Thorwald smoking a cigarette in the dark as Jeff and Lisa watch. The only actual movement in the scene is the cigarette glowing rhythmically, but the way this is edited into Jeff and Lisa's subjectivity - Hitchcock creates an intense feeling of doom that would not be present if these elements were arranged in a different order. Jeff and Lisa are immobile in Jeff's window, but you can feel their fight or flight response trigger. This sense of tension and desire for movement is born out of a simple arrangement of frames.

2. In Rear Window again, the way the scenes are edited when Jeff and Lisa talk about their relationship is striking. Jeff never moves during these scenes, he is immobile in his wheelchair. But as she lies on Jeff's bed, Hitchcock develops a tension that completely approximates physical proximity without it ever happening. The editing here is an incredible sleight of hand. But the mechanics of the trick are on display as it occurs. 

3. The second murder scene in Frenzy. Once the killer and the victim are in his flat, the door closes and the camera simply pulls back, down the stairs, and out into the clamor of the busy street. The sequence is about 20 seconds or so, but Hitchcock forces us to imagine what is happening above in the flat. A simple tracking shot becomes interactive in that the absence of any action forces a imaginative response in the viewer. During the shot, we begin thought processes that only exist because Hitchcock has fabricated the scene this way. It is kind of terrifying, actually. And clever. (Not to mention that we become the murderer for a moment, because we generate an image of what he is doing.)

4. This is all over Vertigo. One clear example is when they are in the redwood forest and Madeleine runs behind the tree. What is she doing back there? This questions has a lot of interesting responses. But formally what she is doing is simple. She is forcing the viewer to enact a series of compensations for her absence. And in this process of trying to mentally fill the space of her absence, we feel the dislocation and erasure of Judy/Madeleine. This key tension in the storyline only exists here because Hitchcock has maneuvered objects in the frame a certain way, and with a certain timing.

5. The doubling in the third act of Vertigo through the use of mirrors creates something - a third thing. But this "thing" (the new, emerging narrative relationship between the two) is only an element of cinema, which is what makes so utterly captivating.

 

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These are really good! Thanks, M'Leary. 

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41 minutes ago, Nathaniel said:

A great scene, although it never fails to provoke nervous laughter from my young students. 

Tragically, mainstream cinema and television does not do much to develop a taste for or understanding of expressionistic film language in its viewers.

Also, this thread is excellent. MLeary's observations on Hitchcock are as insightful as they are eloquent.

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So true, Ryan. You could say that some of Hitchcock's finest moments are the ones where the limitations of his technology are most apparent. Think of Martin Balsam falling backward down the stairs in Psycho. Such an incredible burst of pure cinema, and yet it looks "cheesy" to eyes weaned on CGI. 

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If we're lucky, a lot more people will be talking about Rear Window in a few months, because

The Girl on the Train

is basically an inferior remake of it. 

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22 hours ago, M. Leary said:

Thorwald smoking a cigarette in the dark as Jeff and Lisa watch.

I popped Rear Window into the DVD player this evening for class prep (I show it every semester) with these comments fresh in my mind, and man, the Kuleshovian mechanics that Leary describes are still as impressive as ever. I wonder what Bazin thought of this movie; scene after scene seems to refute his theory that continuity is best maintained in long takes instead of montage. Just look at any of the scenes between Jeff and Lisa.

Moreover, I was fascinated to learn that the moment cited above also works to reverse our sympathies toward the principle characters. The "cigarette scene" always thrilled and terrified me as a kid, probably because it preys upon some basic human fears: fear of the dark, fear of the unseen, etc.

Maybe because I've watched the movie so many times that I thought I'd try, as a kind of thought experiment, to view Thorwald as the tragic protagonist. After all, this seemingly banal salesman-turned-murderer is essentially, as Raymond Durgnat suggests, a more unfortunate version of Jeff, trapped in the same social prison. (As visualized by Hitchcock, the apartments are close and cramped, like kennels for humans.) This time, the scene did not suggest the ogre in his lair (the lit cigarette tip is his glowing "eye") but a lonely, pitiful, Eisenhower-era man engulfed in existential darkness. And because he is played by the great Raymond Burr, his first words to Jeff ("What do you want from me?") have a poignant ring to them. This "monster" is nothing more than a pathetic Willy Loman type provoked to murder by a henpecking wife. I'm not arguing that we should totally sympathize with Thorwald (the murder is morally unambiguous and truly horrific), but it's instructive to try to imagine how different Rear Window would be if an omniscient narrator allowed us to access Thorwald's apartment. Naturally, you would have a different angle on that character.

Ever since Shadow of a Doubt, Hitchcock seemed to delight in poking holes in the American Dream, revealing it to be a breeding ground for spiritual dissatisfaction. Thorwald is perhaps his most mournful emblem of that punctured myth. And that's why the cigarette scene will always mean something different for me.

Edited by Nathaniel

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9 hours ago, Nathaniel said:

And because he is played by the great Raymond Burr, his first words to Jeff ("What do you want from me?") have a poignant ring to them. Thorwald is perhaps his most mournful emblem of that punctured myth.

And that's why the cigarette scene will always mean something different for me.

Yes! Such a great reading of this moment. Hitchcock's films often understand that we get lost, so quickly. So from your perspective, is it fair to say the difference between Jeff and Thorvald is not a moral difference but a matter of circumstance? Jeff's globe-trotting career sounds flashy and adventurous, but it feels more like a cover for a set of fears and inadequacies manifesting in his lack of desire for Lisa. Jeff is simply impotent, where Thorvald is not. He is evil, but he is the other side of the Kierkegaard being/acting equation.

These reversals, in which the audience for a moment is forced to know the villain, are all over Hitchcock.

Bazin expresses some misgivings about Rear Window in Cinema of Cruelty. And also in "Hitchcock contre Hitchcock" there is a specific discussion of Rear Window with Hitchcock himself (!). This is an essential essay for your question, as it makes two core Bazanian points about Hitchcock:

Quote

Always pursuing my initial purpose of having him recognize the existence and the seriousness of a moral theme in his work, I decided, in default of obtaining an acknowledgment from him, to suggest one myself, borrowing for this the perspicacity of the fanatic Hitchcockians. Thus, I had him notice that one theme at least reappeared in his major films that, because of its moral and intellectual level, surely went beyond the scope of simple "suspense" — that of the identification of the weak with the strong, whether it be in the guise of deliberate moral seduction, as in Shadow of a Doubt where the phenomenon is underlined by the fact that the niece and the uncle have the same name; whether, as in Strangers on a Train, an individual somehow steals the protagonist's mental crime, appropriates it for himself, commits it, and then comes to demand that the same be done for him; whether, as in I Confess, this transfer of personality finds a sort of theological confirmation in the sacrament of penitence, the murderer considering more or less consciously that the confession not only binds the priest as witness but somehow justifies his acceptance of the guilty role. The translation of such a subtle argument was not very easy. Hitchcock listened to it with attention and intensity. When he finally understood it I saw him touched, for the first and only time in the interview, by an unforeseen and unforeseeable idea. I had found the crack in that humorous armor. He broke into a delighted smile and I could, follow his train of thought by the expressions on his face as he reflected and discovered for himself with satisfaction the confirmation in the scenarios of Rear Window and To Catch a Thief. It was the only incontrovertible point made by Hitchcock's enthusiasts, but if this theme really exists in his work he owes it to them for having discovered it.

So here, Bazin makes a point about an essential moral theme in Hitchcock about subverting our social constructs of "weak" and "strong." This is pretty critical in Bazin's thinking, as he tends to work from formal statement to moral/theological affirmation. So though he quibbles often with Hitchcock on technical aspects of his British films, and Rear Window, he applauds this particular affect of his films.

Quote

If I may, I will add a personal comment here: It seemed to me, as much from certain precise points made in the conversation as from statements gathered from Hitchcock's collaborators, that he had a permanent notion of mise-en-scène, that of a tension in the interior of a sequence, a tension that one would not know how to reduce either to dramatic categories or plastic categories but which partakes of both at the same time. For him it is always a question of creating in the mise-en-scène, starting from the scenario, but mainly by the expressionism of the framing, the lighting or the relation of the characters to the decor, an essential instability of image. Each shot is thus, for him, like a menace or at least an anxious waiting. From German expressionism, to whose influence he admits having submitted in the studios in Munich, he undoubtedly learned a lesson, but he does not cheat the spectator. We need not be aware of a vagueness of impression in the peril in order to appreciate the dramatic anguish of Hitchcock's characters. It is not a question of a mysterious "atmosphere" out of which all the perils can come like a storm, but of a disequilibrium comparable to that of a heavy mass of steel beginning to slide down too sharp an incline, about which one could easily calculate the future acceleration. The mise-en-scène would then be the art of showing reality only in those moments when a plumb line dropped from the dramatic center of gravity is about to leave the supporting polygon, scorning the initial commotion as well as the final fracas of the fall. As for me, I see the key to Hitchcock's style, this style that is so indisputable that one recognizes at a glance the most banal still from one of his films, in the admirably determined quality of this disequilibrium.

And here is the form critical mic drop. One of the most amazing passages in Bazin, as it exemplifies his ability to encode a formal assessment in a metaphor or image.

What he is saying here has nothing to do with his preference for the long take. And what he appreciates in Hitchcock is the "instability of image" (which I believe is what Hitchcock is after when talking about achieving "imperfection"). That moment with Thorwald we both describe above: What do you want from me? In this moment, the film begins to slide of its own axis, and the audience is unable to stop it from toppling over. For Bazin, this is the formal essence of Hitchcock.

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Thanks so much for digging out those Bazin quotes. They're amazing.

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This is all so serendipitous, as my film class is watching and discussing this movie next week. Thanks, guys!

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Very surprised there is not a Hitchcock and Theology reader out there already. Let's get the job done, people!

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