Friday, August 25, 2017

CANON OF FILM: "REAR WINDOW"

REAR WINDOW (1954)

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: John Michael Hayes based on the Short Story by Cornell Woolrich



So, I have a few differing opinions when it comes to horror movies, apparently. I discovered this revelation a few years ago when a film club I was in back in College got into a discussion about possibly working together to write a horror movie. This lead to a lot of interesting conversations, and it showed a lot of differences between the members of the club. For instance, I’m the only one who thinks John Carpenter’s “Halloween,” is a comedy, while everyone else, apparently, found it “scary”. And speaking of scary, we got into a discussion on what exactly did we find scary. Again, an intriguing difference occurred, when most of the group would come up with some form of fear based around being “isolated,” from from the world at large, and usually human contact, while I on the other hand, was far more afraid of being around people, and I had a very hard time trying to figure out this fear of being alone that everyone else had. I’ve been reflecting and trying to analyze these and other thoughts lately, trying to see if I can understand their fears or at least the reasons for them, (I don’t think I’m ever going to figure out what’s scary about “Halloween”.) and, when my mind drifts that way, that’s often now when I decide to take a new look at “Rear Window”.

I always feel like I overlook “Rear Window” at least in my mind when it comes to Hitchcock. But, honestly, when you’ve sat through as much Hitchcock as I have  you can find periods where you might consider him boring or overrated at times.  Sure, I’m always up for a “Psycho” vs. “Vertigo” debate (“Psycho”’s better, “Vertigo”’s overrated, I thought that even before Sight & Sound’s last poll.) Still, I was a late-come to“Rear Window,” it hadn’t really appealed to me the way “Rope” or “Strangers on a Train” or “To Catch a Thief” had in my now, but now, I suddenly find it more relevant than most of his others classics. It’s not just the parallel themes of looking into other worlds, a vital idea for filmmakers and cinephiles alike; or the very modern theme of voyeurism, which is basically playing a part in modern movies stretching from “Red,” to “The Truman Show,” to “The Ring,” to “Cloverfield,” to even a couple recent “Rear Window,” remakes, like “Disturbia,” and the TV movie that marked Christopher Reeve’s last starring role, (Oh, let’s not forget my last Canon of Film entry, “The Conversation”) instead, I dwelled on the striking parallel that Hitchcock was a master at making, that many horror films/filmmakers don’t quite realize anymore is as critical, how there’s a critical parallel between being alone and trapped, and still being surrounded by people. He does it brilliantly in “North By Northwest,” showing Cary Grant first as an everyman in a busy society, and then alone in a cornfield with a crop-duster chasing him.

Here’s James Stewart plays a renowned photographer who’s temporarily wheelchair-bound after a car accident broke his leg, and instead of photographing some war-torn area in the Middle East, he resorts to watching his neighbors in the apartments across the way. This theme literally plays throughout the whole film. I think most everyone knows how he comes to believe one of his neighbors has suddenly killed his wife, and how he gets his Insurance care worker (Thelma Ritter) and his high fashion, high society girlfriend (Grace Kelly) to join him in some amateurish and dangerous sleuthing. It’s a film that dwells on many different psychological fears, some more obvious than others. I haven’t even mentioned the one about paranoia and being watched, or the one where you fear the person you’re watching will find out. It’s weird to think that the murderous traveling salesman (Raymond Burr) would be just as terrified at who could be watching me, and what does that person want/know. Similar to Hitchcock’s “Rope,” and the underrated “Lifeboat,” “Rear Window, takes place entirely in the same neighborhood, and the action is always shown from inside the same room, even when the characters are in other ones, it’s almost entirely first person shots and then James Stewart reaction shots. Hitchcock was a master of suspense, not so much gore and violence, this film might have less violence than any thriller he did (maybe with the exception of “Rope,”), but the film is entirely filled with suspense, as we have characters who don’t know what’s happened or what’s going on, and don’t have the means to find out. It’s that inquisitive curious nature of beings that lead to such desperation based out of fear and fear that’s disguised as paranoia to the outside world. It’d be really difficult to find a great horror film that isn’t in some form borrowing heavily from “Rear Window”. It has everything all horror films have, and then it pulls the rug out from even that.

And it knows one thing that most forget, it’s doesn’t matter what the boogieman is, as long as everyone’s afraid of it. 
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