#37: Rear Window (1954)

When and how did I watch this?

March 20th, 2017, on DVD.

Had I seen this film already?

Yep. It’s in the so-good-I-had-to-own-it category.

What did I know about the movie before watching it?

I haven’t seen all of Hitchcock’s work (including the upcoming Psycho), but Rear Window appears to be his masterpiece.  I didn’t care for older films when a friend suggested it to me several years ago; I hesitantly bought the DVD at his behest. It became an instant favorite of mine, and I wasn’t certain exactly why until I wrote a paper on it in college, comparing it to a similar instance of voyeurism in Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance.  I’ve since forgotten about the novel, but the analysis still resonates: what liberties do we take when we insist on spying on others for our own amusement? What level of judgment do we employ? Is it our job to investigate others’ private matters? In a world that is under constant surveillance — especially since the advent of recordings and instant sharing on cell phones — these questions ring louder than ever.

What do I know about it now?

It’s possible I’ve seen this film 30 times now, yet the final series of events still makes my hair stand up.

What makes this film so suspenseful, despite having no peaking “action”, no obvious creepy moments or lighting, no effects whatsoever until the final few minutes? It’s the framing, in a few ways.  Ironically, even with Jeff’s (Stewart) panoramic view outside his window, we are still limited to a long view of his neighbors’ windows, and further obscured by rooms, walls, and the scope of the windows themselves. What is unseen puts us in a state of investigation, and makes Jeff’s voyeurism all the more dangerous. Lisa’s revelation (and her chilling expression), the two screams — both jump moments — in the midst of quiet-noise, and the flow of music coming from the oblivious composer’s apartment throughout elevate the thrill. To add to this, there is no musical score.  At times, the musician is playing constantly; at others, he stumbles through songwriting; and at others, we’re stuck to hearing hum of speech and motoring vehicles — “background noise” — and we’re startled when it’s broken up by pretty much anything. Thorwald (Burr) is a fantastic villain, possibly the greatest of them all, for he represents a archetypical neighbor, yet bears qualities and does subtle things that make you have second thoughts about his character. Of course, as the police “buddy” Doyle implies, we can sort of connect dots where we desire to, and make up stories about people based on conjecture and our personal perspective, but despite the evidence we side with Jeff, as unethical as it all seems. Hitchcock masterfully layers all of this on top of and within a relatively simple plot about a possible murder. What a show.

What are some themes in the film?

Voyeurism, perception, marriage, suicide, romance, social class, due process

Did this affect me personally?

The whole film is a carefully crafted work of art, and I’ve beheld it several times, so it’s sort of all in that “affected me personally” category.  Thorwald’s glare out the window is possibly the most haunting moment in the film, however.

Image result for thorwald rear window

Yeah, that one.  Ugh.

Why is this ranked #37?

As mentioned earlier, Psycho is ranked one higher; the fact that this is pretty much on par with the big-name Hitchcock work is a pleasant surprise. Once you see this film, it’s easy to recognize its genius; viewers have undoubtedly picked up on it.

Did my wife watch/like it?

It’s a favorite of hers as well, one I gleefully introduced to her. She hung out for its entirety and enjoyed it all over again.

Would I watch it again?

I will.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

This might be the best film you’ll ever see — unless you’ve seen The Godfather or any Lord of the Rings title.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

The film demands recognition as an all-time great — perhaps in the top 10 in history.  Not that I have any authority on the matter, but it’d be silly to overlook Hitchcock’s magnum opus, if this truly were the one. It manages to touch on philosophical and social matters while maintaining ultra-thick suspense throughout. There’s a lot more going on here that would require further analysis, but I’m writing a blog here, so I’ll lay off.

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