Rear Window A Hitchcock (USA 1954) James Steward; Grace Kelly
Viewed Tyneside Cinema: 29 May 10; ticket price – £6.00 ( Matinee screening)
Under the polished grain of Rear Window’s surface (RW) Hitchcock (AH) has produced a film built on a matrix of interlocking psychic states that still resonate with contemporary concern. Concerns in relation to: the way in which we see, affects how we live our lives; concerns that pivot about the balance of power in sexual relations. Ideas which are worked into RW’s narrative structure and which in their filmic development form the substance of the film.
AH has made RW into something that is experienced by audience as a series of intensities that are never quite resolved, that is until the relatively uninteresting mechanical finale that wraps it all up the end of the movie. These experiences in RW are fashioned out of the opposing forces that AH sets into play in building the states of mind that are at the core of the film: obsessiveness, ambiguity, conflictedness and inadequacy. These mental states characterise not only James Steward as the protagonist, Jeff, but also the audience as they are captured by the structure of the movie and drawn into AH’s psychic cobweb.
RW is based on a primary opposition of place: inside Jeff’s apartment, and the view outside from inside Jeff’s apartment. The life Jeff experiences and the lives of other’s as perceived by Jeff. The opening shot of RW is a long pan of the apartments across the courtyard from him, which finally ends with a track taking the viewer inside Jeff’s place and revealing him asleep with his back to the window. He sits propped up in his chair with a broken leg supported out in front of him. The shot not only shows opposing sides of the courtyard, the different worlds about and across which the film will be structured; it also implies the potential conjoining and subsumance of each world into the other. The shot implicitly sets up the viewer as a collusive agent: not only do we gaze as invisible entities on the courtyard world; we gaze on Jeff and his apartment. This puts us in the same relationship to Jeff as Jeff has in his gazing out upon the worlds of the courtyard windows.
The story is premised on the immobilisation of Jeff (James Steward) who in his helplessness spends his time looking out of his rear window at the flats opposite. A function of this devotion of his time to gazing at the lives of others as they are played out in the windows in front of him is that he is drawn into their theatre and starts to live their lives and their dramas rather than his own. To the extent that he starts to premise his life on this vicarious experience, he becomes ever more helpless. In some respects AH’s idea anticipates the relentless rise of continuity TV experiences whether Soap Operas or ‘Reality TV’. in which the lives of the actors take on greater meaning for many viewers that their own lives. But I don’t think this is enough. The wiring of RW into Jeff’s psych is deeper and darker than this superficial layering. There comes a point where it is as if he ceases to exist as Jeff. He is there physically and in the habitual sense, but the spark of energy of the real man, has been extinguished. None of his close acquaintances, in particular his girlfriend, seem to notice. Or if they do notice what is happening, in a ghoulish way they accept and abet the death of his life.
AH makes RW work on its audience almost without let up. Through most of RW’s sequences AH uses his film to stream to the audience two tracks of information. These opposing tracks cause perception and psyche to split and alternating between the two different streams of information, the viewers perceptive abilities are pushed and pulled in different directions. In the sequences that comprise the gazing at the lives in the windows opposite AH exploits the use of the separate nature of the picture track and sound track. In key sequences of RW they work independently to create heterogeneous disturbance, a conflicting perception of what is perceived and how it is perceived. The vignettes, taking place through the apartment windows, are viewed over the soundtrack of a telephone call; the views into and pans of the windows are accompanied by sounds emanating from different and heterogeneous worlds creating again a dislocation of information a break between sound and image which film, particularly on a big screen can exploit to cause a level of ambiguity in the viewer rather than certainty.
As well as using the physical characteristic of film to split sound and image tracks, AH also exploits a psychic track in the main protagonist: Jeff’s obsession with the other. So central to RW is the ‘obsession’ track in Jeff’s mind that he is unable to free himself from the attraction of his rear window. His need to gaze overrides everything. This state of mind allows AH to compose sequences in RW in which whilst Jeff in image is imagined by his girl friend as being absorbed in making love to her, he has in fact detached from this activity and has entered the world of the gaze. As opposing psychic tracks Jeff and Lisa ( Grace Kelly) when together create a conflicted message and state of mind both in the film and in the viewer.
There also seems one last opposition that AH has built into RW. I have alluded to it but it is that divide between the active and the passive. In particular in relation to the male. At the time of RW’s production the trend towards an increasing number of sedentary male workers employed in offices was evident. AH picks up on the angst of passive man and the symbolic emasculation effected upon those who neither hunt nor gather. Jeff’s immobility which at the start of the film is balanced by his ability to run his own life, in the course of the movie, runs down. By the end of the film this immobility is anchored not just in his physical body but in his psyche; he has been castrated: lost symbolically not just one leg but two as Lisa takes over not just control of his life, but also of the gazing. The female in the film has become the active agent, the male the passive. The years of Hollywood stereotyping inverted in one movie. adrin neatrour firstname.lastname@example.org