Thursday, February 22, 2007


How many films feature a conversation in a restaurant, in a hotel lobby, a night club of two people flirting by painting fictional back-stories onto others observed in a single context? It is sexy and cool to be detached; observing and casually passing judgment on the world around you. Be it with wit or be it with sarcasm.

Rear Window, from its first tracking shot around a large courtyard in Manhattan invites you to spy on the lives of those in the courtyard as you spy on Jimmy Stewart spying. It is really the perfect film about watching movies. What is a film other than a voyeuristic trip into other people’s private lives? Of course it being an Alfred Hitchcock film there is a murder to be witnessed, solved, and broken-down into little pieces for evaluation and sorting. And there is Grace Kelly before she became the Princes of Monaco doing a wonderful fusion of Holly Golightly (before that character existed) and Nancy Drew. A slew of other supporting characters go about their lives about the courtyard neighborhood and a few others come in and out of L. B. Jefferies’ (Stewart) apartment to get caught up in the show.

It is a testament to any piece of entertainment that can sustain not only interest, but emotion, a wee bit of philosophizing ('Rear Window Ethics') and most importantly, thrill, when the film takes in a single tiny apartment. The fact that the entire film is shot from the point of view of only one location and so engrossing is Alfred Hitchcock at the peak of his abilities. A scene where a character looks directly into the camera for the first time is enough to make the little hairs rise on the back of your neck. There is also no musical score (modern films seem to rely heavily on the score telling you how to feel at nearly all times). Rear Window relies on ambient sound; either a neighbor playing their piano or turntable has to suffice. When Hitchcock is referred to as the ‘master of suspense’, Rear Window is the essence of that statement.

There is something about films that have a single location and just observe their characters react and behave in that place (most recently Deepa Mehta's Water, but also Kevin Smith's Clerks. , Vincenzo Natali's Cube, and Joe Dante's The 'burbs. In fact, Dante was definitely operating in the spirit of gentle parody and homage with that 1989 comedy which brilliantly cast the modern equivalent of Jimmy Stewart in the lead of that underrated film, Tom Hanks. That is film is a big favorite of mine, and the right way to do a remake, switch genres and play with conventions, but I digress.

Rear Window has been remade more than once and has been referenced in more facets of popular culture that I care to mention (OK, a few recent ones as diverse as horror (The Ring), animated TV (The Simpsons) and coming of age drama/satire (Ghost World)).

What is probably the wrong reason for revisiting Rear Window again, but there is a crass, over-wrought looking knock-off aimed at teenagers coming out very soon called Disturbia. The trailer got me angry just watching and I started lamenting the death of studio cinema seeing how Rear Window was the entertainment of its day, and we get this today! (After calming down, I fully acknowledge that it is a false sentiment (a snap reaction in fact) in a year (2006) that had Children of Men , The Queen and The Fountain as studio pictures).

Nonetheless, Hitchcock's film has held up well, very well. The acting, characters and situations do not have that ‘old movie’ feel to them, these feel like real people. The sound-stage set is a bit on the artificial looking side, but it does not detract from the film, rather gives it a timeless feel, much like the Technicolor process.

Do yourself a favour and come out Thrusday Night to revisit (or visit for the first time!) a bonafide classic of cinema, both art and entertainment. Drinks at 8pm. Trailers and Showtime at 8:30pm.


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