17 June 2013

'Til Death Do Us Part

There was this one time that I was sitting at the computer at two in the morning when I noticed something odd going on outside. Through the window I could see two youths trying to break into the house opposite where I knew an old man lived alone. At first I wasn't sure what to do. I knew I should phone the police but then I also knew the old man was a proper miserable prick. I decided therefore to be diplomatic and not pick sides, only calling for help once they'd finally broken in. After a few minutes of trying to pick the lock they gave up and attempted the less sophisticated technique of kicking the door in. That didn't work either and sadly a car then drove past- scaring them off and ruining my show. There's something about voyeurism that I'm convinced is built into us all as a guilty pleasure. It's one of the reasons why middle-aged women like to people-watch, why teenaged boys like porn and why Rear Window is my favourite of Hitchcock's film.

Released in 1954, Rear Window tells the story of James Stewart- a bored photographer with a broken leg. As he sits in his apartment he starts to spy on his neighbours, slowly learning what each of them does. It's basically an interesting insight into the shit people used to get up to before the popularity of television. Some play music, some dance, some attempt suicide and others just chop up their wives and then scatter her around the local area. Or at least that's what it looks like to our crippled peeping Tom. I guess to summarise, the story here is pretty much a straight up rip off of Disturbia but with the film having the malicious cunning of being released about fifty years earlier.     

No Sean, I don't want a new fucking phone!
Voyeurism is probably the reason that this is my favourite Hitchcock film. It's an element that has featured in many of his other movies too but this is the one that most directly comments on us as cinema goers. The way Stewart helplessly stares at his neighbours through a sheet of glass is identical to the way in which we view other peoples’ lives through a television set. He scours each window looking for something of interest to watch in the same way that we channel surf. Turns out that in each case there's piss all of interest but at least he doesn't have to endure the banality of crap adverts in which Sean Bean desperately tries to flog us a shitty O2 phone. I'm currently making a list so that I remember never to buy anything that won't let me skip it after five seconds on YouTube. Actually, speaking of which, there is a young couple constantly shagging in one of the rooms opposite him and every time they do, they annoyingly close their curtains. I guess now that we also view so much content on the internet, the curtain of those young fuckers kind of represents the film’s version of parental controls.

Interestingly one of the ways in which Hitchcock adds to the sense of voyeurism is by only ever filming from the one room. Pretty much everything we see is through that window so that over the course of the story, we really do become one with Stewart’s character. It's therefore even more impressive to consider that everything we see in Rear Window was filmed in a studio. Every one of the apartments opposite were fully working, with the studio able to recreate various times of day and weather. Basically Hitchcock decided to play The Sims but because it was yet to be invented he instead had to make do with A-List actors and a life-sized liveable set instead. Apparently he would direct only from Stewart’s room and communicate with the other actors via radio and small ear pieces. When most people decide to play God, it involves climbing onto a roof and taking potshots at passing mothers with a rifle. Hitchcock on the other hand not only kept himself murder free but also managed to get paid for the inconvenience. 

Throughout his career, The Master of Suspense has often concentrated on examining our greatest fears and biggest horrors. One of these terrifying repulsions that constantly pops up in his films is the theme of love and romance. Rear Window continues this idea with Stewart and Kelly's relationship being the very obvious heart of the film. The basic problem is that she wants to settle down and marry and unfortunately for her, he doesn't. I guess that I'm aware of how Stewart’s character is a massive dick to Ms. Kelly in the way that he so brutally shits over her idea of happiness. However, as history has turned me into a massive sexist, I couldn't help but think that he spoke the most sense.

In fact it could be said that the whole film is a reflection on the themes of romance. In every other room, something is happening that could help Stewart make up his mind as to what he should do. As I've mentioned, there's the newly weds fucking, the lonely woman attempting suicide, a man writing love songs and also an attractive, available girl constantly dancing. It's as though each room is showing Stewart one of the different paths that he could take. Of course though, the window that he focuses on is the one in which he believes a man has hacked up his better half. Whether or not he's right in his assumption, the fact that this is what he instantly concludes simply goes to show his cynicism towards the idea of marriage and happiness. Thanks to my regrettable levels of misanthropy and light misogyny, I once again concur.

They look like humans after some horrible nuclear disaster...
Although this is only a minor point, there is a saying which states that the harder you look, the less you'll see. I guess this just means that if you concentrate too much on one thing then you might miss what's going on with the bigger picture. A few rooms up from the potential wife killer is a songwriter. This musician was played by the actual songwriter Ross Bagdasarian Jr who in reality then went on to invent the concept and sound of The Chipmunks. Had Stewart not become so obsessed with one little homicide then perhaps he could have prevented an even greater crime from taking place only a further few feet away. One woman's death can't affect more than a handful of people however I think we've all been tortured by the high-pitched warbling of Alvin and his mongoloid race of rancid rodents.    

For me, this film was released during Hitchcock's Golden Period where, for the next decade, he didn't put a foot wrong. Afterwards, Stewart continued his successful career in which he played every variation of the likeable everyman re-teaming with Hitchcock again for The Man Who Knew Too Much and Vertigo. Grace Kelly too was phenomenal here and became the quintessential blonde of which the infamous director was clearly obsessed. After Rear Window, she too continued her acting career before marrying into royalty, living every girls dream life and then dying the traditional Princess death of being mangled in a car crash. The film is witty, insightful, funny, thrilling and pretty much everything you'd expect from one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. If you've not seen it then you really should. Like The Godfather, A Clockwork Orange and Two Girls, One Cup this really is one of those classic movies that you need to see before you die. 

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