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Hitchcock Final Essay
Professor Worland
Whitcomb Johnson
Rear Window
The World Through the Eyes of Alfred Hitchcock; Told ...
realize that the ride is just as entertaining, and they still could be wrong about the title. Unlike
some of Hitchcock’s f...
their own montage’s in their head, which brings them as close as they possibly can to the film.
This is on display, in its...
her dog having been killed in her backyard, she suspects Lars of doing it because the dog had
been digging in his rose bus...
Hitchcock placing himself in smaller roles, like the piano teacher in Rear Window can also be a
statement about the tone o...
why did she send hi a postcard saying she’d arrived?”(Rear Window, John Hayes) Stewart’s
cheek is pressed up against the p...
keeping [Grace Kelly] away is fear of impotence, symbolized by the leg cast, and we are
reminded of the strikingly similar...
gave his position away to the murderer, the flash from his camera. Hitchcock is notorious, no pun
intended, for creating c...
vitally important. When Mr. Thorwald finally arrives at Jimmy Stewart’s apartment, his shadow
blocking the light under the...
of a cinematic idea. Pudovkin dealt with this, as you know. In one of his books on the art of
montage, he describes an exp...
Works Cited
1) Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure of Narrative Cinema” Film Theory and Criticism. April
24th, 2012. WEB.
2) B...
Hitchcock's Rear Window_Final Essay
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Hitchcock's Rear Window_Final Essay

  1. 1. Hitchcock Final Essay Professor Worland Whitcomb Johnson Rear Window The World Through the Eyes of Alfred Hitchcock; Told by Jimmy Stewart Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock directed over fifty feature films, which is astounding when you consider the once Hollywood tycoon began his career in England in the early 1920’s making silent flicks and writing short stories. He has been most appropriately dubbed The Master of Suspense by film enthusiasts and critics alike. The first film by the renown director that has subsequently been analyzed as the earliest ‘Hitchcockian’ film, The Lodger (1927) , created the allure of his work, the ambiguity of moral fibre in his characters and the unmistakable eerie cinematography. Hitchcock was working in the midst of numerous alterations in the Film Industry; starting in the late 1920’s and continuing through the 1970’s. A quick glimpse at Hitchcock’s filmography can leave a reader dumbfounded at the numerous recognizable and quality feature films, but aside from that the mere fact that he directed over fifty films. In comparison Francis Ford Coppola and Stanley Kubrick, both highly regarded filmmakers of the relatively-subsequent generation, made about 40 films combined. Hitchcock was often known to articulate his distaste for the actual production process of making a film because he already had the entire picture in his head, practically shot for shot. Alfred Hitchcock released Rear Window in 1954, first screening it at the Venice Film Festival. James Stuart and Grace Kelly, both enormous Hollywood movie stars at the time, were cast to play the two leading roles in the film. The plot was based on a short story written in 1942 by Cornell Wolrich entitled, “It had to be Murder.” The title seems to be giving away the story, however what readers and viewers of the film soon
  2. 2. realize that the ride is just as entertaining, and they still could be wrong about the title. Unlike some of Hitchcock’s films, Rear Window was greeted with praise from critics and cheers from both foreign and domestic audiences. It was no secret that Jimmy Stewart, who was at this point an international movie star, was helping to open the film. Though, most attuned audiences had already begun to realize that the collaboration between Stewart and Hitchcock was not one to be missed on screen. Whether or not audiences around the world realized it or not, Alfred Hitchcock had become a celebrity in the same vain as Orson Welles. The distinction here was that it seemed as though Hitchcock had an infinite number of films in his back pocket and the choices he made whether it was to pick a certain actress for a role, or short comedic cameos, would only heightened his popularity and fame. Hitchcock tell’s the audience almost everything they need to know and and then the nail bitting commences, and they cling to their seat cushions praying that the characters on screen won’t do the inevitable. Rear Window seemed to take on a life of its own however, it seemed to be as if Hitchcock was living vicariously through Jimmy as he observed his surroundings, through the power of deduction they both became very adept at piecing stories together, noticing the details, and in this case solving a murder. Jimmy Stewart is partaking in the most extreme form of ‘people watching.’ His character entertains himself by watching other humans who seem to be caught up in their own little worlds; voyeurism at its finest. Hitchcock’s early beginnings in the silent film era in many ways trained him for the suspense that he would eventually infuse into his Hollywood pictures, the purest form of cinema; showing and not telling. Sergei Eisenstein, the early Russian filmmaker would be a huge fan of Hitchcock’s work if he had lived long enough, because both directors understand the audiences ability to create
  3. 3. their own montage’s in their head, which brings them as close as they possibly can to the film. This is on display, in its purest form, in my personal favorite Hitchcock film Rear Window. Rear Window is about a temporarily crippled photo-journalist who happens to be in the midst of a steamy relationship with a beautiful blond, a nagging friendship with his nurse, and a detective who won’t believe his story. This set-up certainly calls for a whirlwind of problems to ensue, however these characters are really only background noise to Jimmy Stewart’s character. Who isn’t curious about other’s people’s business, especially is they don’t know you’re looking; the question is where do you draw the line? This idea fascinated Hitchcock, from the short stories he used to write in London through his mastery of the thriller, Alfred loved to tip-toe around the line and then occasionally saw it in half. The mere fact that one of Stewart’s neighbors in Rear Window happens to be in the process of committing a murder saves Jimmy Stewart’s character from being a nosy old man and reaffirms the overarching theme in all of Hitchcock’s films that things are not what they seem. Hitchcock choses not to blatantly show Jimmy Stewart’s neighbor committing a murder, only suspicious clues which allows the audience to infer along with Jimmy Stewart; routing for him to be correct in his assumptions. As a crippled man, before the technology boom, Stewart’s character is limited to reading, painting, and of course staring out the window. His apartment building is behind a small courtyard, one that has at least thirty apartments that are built around it. Keeping in mind the classic theme in Hitchcock’s works that ‘nothing is as it appears’ this seemingly innocent and pedestrian courtyard is filled with intrigue, love, hate, loss, etc. However, intriguingly the characters that Jimmy can watch outside his window are completely oblivious to there other neighbors, even though they live in such proximity. One of the only interactions between neighbors is when Thorwald’s neighbor finds
  4. 4. her dog having been killed in her backyard, she suspects Lars of doing it because the dog had been digging in his rose bushes. ‘Miss lonely hearts’ as she is called in the film, is a resident of the complex who almost kills herself because of her longing for a boyfriend. This side-plot portrays an older sentiment, is this young woman’s life meaningless because she cannot find a mate? Of course not, but to her it is. These were social norms of the 1950’s, something that Hitchcock did not want to leave out of the film it added another dynamic to the courtyard. Furthermore, when Lisa is trying to reason with Jeff about Mrs. Thorwald, she fires at him, “So what?! Lots of husbands don’t talk to their wives all day, and lots of wives don’t leave their bedrooms all day…but Murder?!” This statement meant more to the audience in 1954 then it would in 2016, though not to trivialize domestic violence in our modern society. However, the sexism that is displayed throughout this film is clearly a form of social commentary and it causes the audience to second guess what they have just seen. There is also a talented pianist who lives on the courtyard, who happens to have Alfred Hitchcock as his teacher, there is a soldier returning home to his beautiful young wife and finally Lars Thorwald, the murderer. Hitchcock is not the only director to have placed himself in his films, Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino, and Orson Welles have all done the same thing with great success. Hitchcock stands apart from the pack, his cameo’s are not to demonstrate his acting technique, it is both a message or statement about the film and in a very big way: fan service. Fan service because since the late 1920’s when Hitchcock became moderately famous and developed a following, even an American one, viewers were looking for his appearances in his new films; where was he going to be, what was he doing to be doing? Likewise, because his films are so suspenseful and often rather morbid, his infamous figure is a quick break from the action, a to chuckle to oneself.
  5. 5. Hitchcock placing himself in smaller roles, like the piano teacher in Rear Window can also be a statement about the tone of the story or literally about the plot-line. In Rear Window, Hitchcock is depicted as a bystander, a piano teacher that nobody would ever expect anything great from, and yet him and his pupil make beautiful music for the courtyard to enjoy. It’s important to note that these appearances are not always as profound as we might like them to be, but they deserve recognition. If you are a diehard Hitchcock fan, sitting in the theatre about to watch Rear Window, or another classic for the first time, you’re going to cheer aloud or internally when you notice Hitchcock on screen. Two of my favorite scenes in Rear Window are not necessarily crucial to the story but they deserve recognition. The first of which is when Jeff is trying to plead his case to Thomas, a detective who happens to be a friend, about what Mr. Thorwald has been doing for the last several days. James Stewart has transformed into a man who has seen a neighbor commit a murder and nobody will believe him. The acting term for what James Stewart is doing on the phone is a list, he pleads his case by saying bullet point after bullet point all the while building momentum until he hits the punchline. This scene is right after Lisa is caught in Thorwalds apartment trying to retrieve his wife’s wedding ring. The lines read as follows, “A fact! Last night he killed a dog for pawing in his garden. Why? Because he had something buried in there. Something a dog could scent…Like a hambone?…I don’t know what pet name Thorwald had for his wife. And that night he went out half a dozen times with the metal suitcase. He wasn’t taking his possessions, because they’re up in his apartment now!…You think it was old hambone?…In sections! And one other thing, doubting Tom-it just occurred to me that all the calls Thorwald made were long distance! If he called his wife the day she left-after she arrived in Merritsville-
  6. 6. why did she send hi a postcard saying she’d arrived?”(Rear Window, John Hayes) Stewart’s cheek is pressed up against the phone has he barks his evidence in the phone, the way he is slouched in his chair and framed in the shot makes him appear desperate. My second favorite scene is a single shot of Mr. Thorwald sitting in his living room, in the dark, and smoking a cigar. This might seem kind of cliche for a murder story, however the originality of the script and what we know of Thorwald's character make it seem believable. Likewise, Jeff is watching this unfold in his own shadowy apartment as a murderer sits across the courtyard, naive and sadistic, smoking a fat cigar. The orange glow of Mr. Thorwald’s cigar, barely illuminating his face in the dark, will be imbedded in my mind forever. The burnt end of the cigar seems to glow like the sun in the pitch black, it is his last moment of victory. The leading men throughout Hitchcock’s films have been a myriad of personalities, most often ‘good men’ put in complicated situations being a recurring theme. For example, Cary Grant redefined what it meant to be debonaire, especially in Hollywood, and yet Hitchcock cast him as a deceptive flirt in Suspicion. In that film he wasn’t as trustworthy as he was in North by Northwest or Charade, he was framed awkwardly and came across as a boy-scout looking for a hot wife and an easy handout. In Vertigo, Stewart’s character is very different from what the public perceived him as, he wasn’t supposed to be an ex-detective falling in love with some young girl, especially not when he had Midge waiting for him. When he was trying to transform Kim Novak back into the blond he fell in love with Jimmy’s character’s likability plummeted, this was someone the public hadn’t seen before. In Vertigo the audience is routing for Scotty and Midge to end up falling in love, and in Rear Window we are semi-routing for him to ignore what is going on outside his window and focus on Lisa(Grace Kelly). “But perhaps his real reason for
  7. 7. keeping [Grace Kelly] away is fear of impotence, symbolized by the leg cast, and we are reminded of the strikingly similar relationship between Scotty, the Stewart character in "Vertigo," and the fashion illustrator played by Barbara Bel Geddes. She, too, loves him. He keeps his distance. She sympathizes with his vertigo, as Kelly nurses the broken leg. Both observe his voyeuristic obsessions.”(Roger Ebert) Some of the critics and audience members alike responded negatively to this at first, not knowing exactly why except that they recoiled at Scotty’s possessive nature in Vertigo. Both Scotty and Jeff seem to be sacrificing good things in their life because of their own curiosity or self-interest. Having said that, Stewart’s character in Rear Window was what the public expected of Jimmy, an innocent bystander who demanded justice, a modernist good Samaritan. One aspect of filmmaking that if often brushed over when discussing Hitchcock, is screenwriting and the various scripts that have been written for Hitchcock by a plethora of writers including himself and his wife. One response to the accusation that Hitchcock doesn’t put enough value into the screenplay is that he doesn’t have too. A director like Hitchcock is going to work very closely with his DP to compose each shot in a way that evokes sentiments towards a certain character or an establishing shot. Only a few skilled directors, like Hitchcock, can tell the audience a lot by framing a villain on screen appearing, for lack of a better word, villainous. In Rear Window when the murderer, Lars Thorwald, finally confronts Jimmy Stewart, Hitchcock uses a long shot with the camera tilted upwards as to make Mr. Thorwald appear very ominous standing in the doorway. This is the first time that one of the people he has been spying on since the beginning of the film has so much as looked at him, and now Mr. Thorwald is standing in his apartment. Ironically, Jimmy Stewart is able to defend himself using the very same thing that
  8. 8. gave his position away to the murderer, the flash from his camera. Hitchcock is notorious, no pun intended, for creating clever acts of violence whether it be murder or self defense. Bruno having a merry-go-around collapse on top of him in Stranger on a Train, or Barbara Bel Geddes using a leg of lamb in Hitchcock Presents, and a crop-duster in North by Northwest to name a few. Jimmy Stewart’s caretaker Stella in Rear Window calls his camera a portable keyhole. Stella is constantly on his case to do something else besides staring out his window and pinning to be rid of his cast and get back to his life. Killian Fox from The Guardian had this to say about Rear Window, “ ‘We've become a nation of peeping toms,’ complains Thelma Ritter, Stewart's nurse and the film's ostensible voice of sanity, when she sees her patient glued to the window in the opening scenes. But before long she's just as transfixed as he is.” The odd thing is Jeff has spent his entire professional career trying to capture special moments on camera, and now that his mobility has been taken from him he does what he knows best. Artistically speaking the audience watches this film unfold through Jimmy Stewart’s eyes. Through his gaze we are able to comprehend what is going on, really the dialogue is exclusively to add color to the film it is not essential to understanding the plot. This is common for directors who started working in film during the silent era. Hitchcock would not be the movie icon and industry ‘titan’ he is today if he wasn’t such a stylized filmmaker. Every film that he has made since The Lodger in 1927 has been heavily stylized with high contrast lighting, dolly close-ups, the background being of the utmost importance, the list can go on forever. Rear Window is no stranger to style, and one of the most noticeable forms is the use of shadow. The shadows in this film are mostly used by Stewart’s character to keep himself from being seen by his neighbors, as the story progresses this becomes
  9. 9. vitally important. When Mr. Thorwald finally arrives at Jimmy Stewart’s apartment, his shadow blocking the light under the door notifies Jimmy that Lars is there, a very dramatic moment but also a shadow helping Jimmy one last time. There is a symbolic nature to Jimmy not wanting to be seen, even before he becomes wise to what Thorwald is doing. Jimmy Stewart’s character, Jeff, is a professional photographer, his job is to watch people and photograph them in new and interesting ways, that is no coincidence by Hitchcock. Most of the shots of Jeff in the film are medium shots or close up’s until we switch to a POV of what he’s looking at. Hitchcock has framed these POV’s and reaction shots to be eye level with Jeff as he uses the binoculars or camera to stare out the window. This collaboration of camera work and editing is easy to miss because it seems effortless and very natural to an untrained eye which is simply a compliment to Alfred’s expertise. Jimmy Stewart’s likability, an exciting plot, and a voyeuristic approach to film are profound reasons Rear Window is commonly the first film people say when you ask, “Have you seen a Hitchcock movie?” By the same token, the film opens with bamboo window curtains slowly being raised to reveal what is beyond, an action that is comparable to the theatre starting. This symbolism is especially significant in Rear Window because of the nature and setting of this story. There are only a few sets needed, and the majority of the In this sense, like Rope, Hitchcock is challenging himself by visually limiting his options, having to tell the story through editing and pure cinema. Hitchcock was a filmmaker first and a celebrity second. When asked about Rear Window by Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock had this to say, “It was a possibility of doing a purely cinematic film, You have an immobilized man looking out. That's one part of the film, The second part shows what he sees and the third part shows how he reacts. This is actually the purest expression
  10. 10. of a cinematic idea. Pudovkin dealt with this, as you know. In one of his books on the art of montage, he describes an experiment by his teacher, Kuleshov. You see a close-up of the Russian actor Ivan Mosjoukine. This is immediately followed by a shot of a dead baby. Back to Mosjoukine again and you read compassion on his face.” Hitchcock took this method and implemented it into a story about a crippled photographer spying on his neighbors outside his window. Pudovkin and Tarkovsky were two famous Russian filmmakers, best known for their editing techniques building off of what Serge Eisenstein accomplished with the montage. It is well known that Hitchcock greatly respected these two filmmakers as well as German ones like Lang, German techniques shared by fellow UFA graduates are evident throughout Hitchcock’s films. Rear Window, in many ways, is the culmination of style, technique, and sheer brilliance of filmmaking for Hitchcock. It’s his most personal film, it is how Alfred Hitchcock would spend his time if he were confined to a wheelchair and a small apartment. There was a remake of Rear Window that was released in 2008 called Disturbia, with Shia LaBeouf, however an overwritten script with a half-assed back story detracted from the originality of someone uncovering a murder outside their bedroom window. Moreover, the simplicity in Rear Window is what distinguished it from so many other great films; the first four minutes doesn’t have a single line of dialogue. Alfred Hitchcock was an observer of humanity’s quarks, of different environments, and to our benefit he happened to be incredibly talented. For that, Rear Window was a very personal film; Jeff was a photographer, Hitchcock was a filmmaker, and they both loved creating their own little movies, the thriller(Mr. Thorwald), the love story(Ms.-Lonley-Hearts and the soldier), and the comedy(Hitchcock and his student).
  11. 11. Works Cited 1) Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure of Narrative Cinema” Film Theory and Criticism. April 24th, 2012. WEB. 2) Beamish, Greg. Hitchcock’s Rear Window: The Limited Perspective of the Voyeur. The Artifice. Kennedy, Jessica. Oct 19th, 2014. WEB. 3) Fox, Killian. My Favorite Hitchcock: Rear Window. The Guardian, London, UK. July 25th, 2012. WEB. 4) Hayes, John Michael. Rear Window. Script. September 1954. WEB. 5) Scott, Helen G. Truffaut, Francois. Hitchcock Truffaut. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks-Revised Edition. NY. 1983. PRINT. 6) Ebert, Roger. Rear Window. A Great Movie List. September 2000. WEB.

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