Whether this blog post for Rear Window (1954) holds a gold nugget of analysis or is mostly iron sulfide is anyone’s guess, but I enjoy the challenge. Let’s dig.
GIANTS AMONG US
We are all peeping toms, according to Alfred Hitchcock, so he forces the audience for Rear Window to observe Jeff (James Stewart) and Lisa (Grace Kelly) as they watch other people in apartments across the courtyard. With very few exceptions, the audience sees only what can be viewed at a distance from Jeff’s apartment, making the people outside seem small like little dolls and their apartments like tiny boxes.
Viewed in the movie theater, the gang of voyeurs in Jeff’s apartment not only seems larger than the neighbors outside, they also seem larger than the audience. In Lisa’s introductory scene, she kisses Jeff. As she stares into the lens and leans into the camera for the smooch (ironically like a monstrous being in a 3D film who breaks the fourth wall to make the audience recoil), some reviewers claim that the licentious Hitchcock is merely “saving” the first kiss for himself as director, then allows the next cut to be of the woman kissing Jeff. To the director and to Jeff she’s an inviting presence - they are all the same size- but when Lisa looms overhead, to a cinema audience she’s a towering giant. It’s as if we have become the “little people” in a dollhouse and Glumdalclitch has come to play with us.
Viewing Rear Window on the small screen, (or even in a small screen cap like that above) however, makes Lisa and Jeff less brobdingnagian and more like their neighbors. Not only are we watching them, but they seem increasingly shoved into their own small box - our television or computer. With home viewing - pausing, rewinding, etc. - Lisa and Jeff are almost like Barbie and Ken dolls, performing at your command.
|Prepping for the blogathon; Rear Window in a small box|
Of course the movie still holds up despite the change in technology. This is due in no small part because the film invites the audience to compare size, proportion and space anyway. For instance, after Lisa kisses Jeff, she displays her new gown in his cramped apartment. As she twirls, the yards of fabric in the skirt brush against furniture, her matching shawl lightly caresses a desk that probably hasn’t seen a duster in weeks. She declares that the dress is right off the Paris runway, another narrow space that needs careful negotiating.
REAR WINDOW KISS VS. A NEW MOVIE KISS
That Lisa-Jeff kissing scene was helpful in understanding why a similar scene in a recent film did not work.
I watched a new flick at a movie theater a few months ago. There was your standard two shot close up of a guy and his love saying something important about their relationship. He is trying to rekindle her interest, but they are on a tight schedule - rushing to save the free world or something. He has only seconds. What was meant to be an empathetic and ardent plea of a man desperate for the love of his ex was unintentionally predatory. All I could think of was, “he seems big enough to eat her.” His head took up two-thirds of that big screen and hers less than a third. Every time he would speak I expected his jaw to unhinge and swallow her face.
It was not romantic - a fact which, for some reason, irritated at me for months.
In prepping for this blogathon, my mind began comparing that recent close up with the Lisa-Jeff introductory scene. When the film introduces Lisa smooching Jeff, both stars’ heads take up equal amounts of space in the frame, even though Miss Kelly has a relatively small cranium and Stewart is known for his elongated face. But in this close up you don’t see much of the actors’ heads, except the parts that move a lot - mouths, eyes, lashes. You are concentrating on what they are saying and doing with their faces - smiling, talking, kissing, whispering, etc. The ears, tops of heads and Stewart’s chin are all but cut out of the frame.
Then it hit me - in that recent movie, you can see the entire profile of the two love birds - top of the head, chins, ears, everything. You see just how much bigger the actor is than his counterpart, which doesn’t help in that scene where the lady is supposed to be a dominant force and the man is emotionally at her mercy, since she’s moved on with her life and he wants her back.
It’s a small point, but one that I appreciate because that contemporary scene kept nagging me and I couldn’t think of a way to fix it. Rear Window is very instructive.
The film’s plot and overall effectiveness holds well because of the attention to minutia. The intricacies of multiple layers of storytelling, down to the framing of a kiss make this film thoroughly re-watchable. The details establish a certain atmosphere or feeling and you don’t exactly know why until you pick the film apart like an old watch to see how it ticks. It’s almost as if Hitchcock anticipated home viewing, or at least multiple viewings, people pausing it to look for the little things. Rear Window is just that good.
More Hitchcock Blogathon contributions are here at CMBA.