Rear Window Essay
CLASSICAL HOLLYWOOD CINEMA *** Assignment: Textual Analysis The opening of Rear Window (from the very beginning to Stella’s entrance) - Rear Window Essay introduction. The classic Hitchcock film, “Rear Window”, is an intelligent and engaging analysis of human perception, voyeurism and what it means to see, to be perceptive. Set in 1950’s New York, a boisterous free-lance photographer finds himself confined to a wheelchair in his tiny apartment recuperating from a broken leg.
With only the occasional distraction of a visiting nurse and his frustrated love interest – a beautiful fashion consultant – his attention is naturally drawn to the courtyard outside his “Rear Window” and the occupants of the apartment buildings which surround it. Soon he is absorbed by the private dramas of his neighbour’s lives which play themselves out before his very eyes. There is “Miss Lonely-hearts,” so desperately awaiting her imaginary lover that she sits him a plate at the dinner table and enacts their ensuing chat.
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There is the frustrated composer banging on his piano, the sunbathing sculptress, the shapely dancer, the newlyweds who are concealed from their neighbours by a window shade and an awkward middle-aged couple with an annoying barking dog who sleep on the fire escape to avoid the sweltering heat of their apartment. And then there is the mysterious salesman, whose nagging, invalid wife’s sudden absence from the scene ominously coincides with his middle-of-the-night ventures into the dark, sleeping city with his sample case. Where did she go? What’s the salesman shipping away in the boot of his car?
What’s he been doing with the knives and the saw that he cleans at the kitchen sink? “Rear Window” by Alfred Hitchcock uses many techniques to capture the viewer and place them in the same world as the main character Jefferies (played by James Stewart). The opening sequence of this film uses many of the techniques that can be seen throughout the rest of the movie. In particular, the opening scene employs innovative camera movement through panning and zooming. The opening sequence also makes incredible use of diegetic space or illustrative narrative capturing all surrounding events to compliment the
film’s storyline, including events that are presumed to have occurred and actions and spaces not shown onscreen. Furthermore, the use of editing techniques, which are vital to the narrative and presentation of any movie are also evident in the opening sequence of “Rear Window”. Finally, sound is always one of the most obvious and important aspects of any film. However, Alfred Hitchcock presents the viewer with a new, innovative approach to the sound aspects of cinema. In the opening sequence, the bamboo shades begin to rise slowly over four rectangular windows.
The camera then tracks out through the window to a view that shows the familiar sight of a Manhattan, lower east side apartment building, with its courtyard and garden. A panning camera then follows a cat up a set of steps in the foreground of the courtyard, and then backs off while still panning most of the apartment complex. The camera tracks back into the open apartment window where the shot began and we see Jefferies asleep and sweating from the high temperature. The shot moves next door to show a man shaving and listening to an annoying radio commercial.
After this, the camera begins a long, continuous panning movement across to another apartment of an older couple, then below them to a blonde woman before returning once again to Jefferies apartment and slowly revealing his leg and his wheelchair. The panning camera makes the viewer feel as though he/she is on an adventure seeking out anything his/her field of view. The viewer and Jefferies see the same objects and the same people as the camera moves through the courtyard and apartment buildings. The viewer is seeing through the eyes of Jefferies.
The use of diegetic space ties in with the use of sound in this film. For example, in the opening sequence as the camera pans to the adjacent room we see a man shaving. The radio is blaring away to the racket of an annoying commercial. The man quickly tunes the radio to another station to hear music rather than a commercial. The use of radio and in particular the airing of a commercial is quite significant since radio permeates the very thoughts of individuals with the aim of transforming them into what should be the thoughts of every individual. This film focuses on the sentimental side of every viewer.
It makes the viewer feel as if he/she could actually influence the sequence of events themselves. Furthermore, it makes the viewer feel as if he or she has the power, time, and devotion to change the life of a handicapped individual in much the same way as Hitchcock did with Jefferies in the film. The use of sounds is a key feature of the movie because Hitchcock has managed to capture all possible sounds that we encounter in our everyday lives. As intimated above radio is a powerful medium bringing people together by enforcing a common theme among their ears.
In the movie radio reinforces current thought by evoking feelings of sentiment, and sadness on behalf of the viewer. Instantly in the movie we recognise the familiar sound of the radio distracting our thoughts momentarily until the sound of an alarm clock shifts our focus and point of view to that of the middle-aged couple that are sleeping on their fire escape; then comes the sound of an alarm coming from one of the apartments. At the film’s climax, a group of musicians rehearse a song, called “Lisa”. This is the first time it is heard in its full version.
To underline its status as diegetic rather than non-diegetic, we have a couple of cut-away shots from the principal action to show the rehearsing musicians. Most of the sound contained within this film comes from diegetic sources. The influence of these sources is so great that it provokes the viewer into seeking out each individual source in order to satisfy his/her curiosity. The diegteic space of this film is grand in size due to the numerous buildings and close proximity to one another. Theoretically, we could hear a sound from virtually any apartment in the complex.
It’s as though we are viewing the whole scene with a fish eye lens. The editing techniques in the opening sequence involve mainly panning and to some degree cutting techniques for the camera. The panning movement creates a sense of continuity to the shot and also gives the viewer a sense of the closeness of each neighbour. Through the panning technique, the viewer understands Jefferies close proximity to the action and also develops a sense of his location in the film. The cutting technique creates an entirely different view of the situation.
Cutting makes the viewer seem disconnected, possibly out of view of those that he or she is gazing in upon. The set design isolates each individual by placing each in his separate window. The cutting reinforces that separation when Hitchcock creates transitions from window to window through cut away shots. Each of these techniques and styles prepare the spectator for the rest of the film. The ‘eye like’ movement of the camera prepares the spectator for more shots and panning from room to room. The use of diegetic space in reference to sound makes the viewer more aware
and ready to listen to sounds emanating from different objects and to identify them. Finally, the editing and cutting in and out technique readies the viewer for when to expect scene changes and how to identify different scenes. All of these aspects work in harmony to set up an amazing film that fully involves its viewers. The acting is one of “Rear Window’s” strengths. This is one of James Stewart’s most impressive roles, primarily because of the limitations placed upon him. More than in any of his other films, he had to act with his eyes, face, and voice.
And Jefferies is not one of the morally upright, mild-mannered protagonists that Stewart became identified with. Instead, Jefferies is worldly, impatient, bad-tempered, and prone to bursts of anger. Some of the brilliant dialogue given to him by John Michael Hayes’ script is biting. His frustration at being bound up to a wheel chair is obvious from the first frame, when Hitchcock’s camera pans across the room, giving us a wealth of background information about Jefferies and his situation before a word is spoken.
Simply put, “Rear Window” is a great film, perhaps one of the finest ever committed to celluloid. All of the elements are perfect (or nearly so), including the acting, script, camerawork, music (by Franz Waxman), and, of course, direction. The brilliance of the movie is that in addition to keeping viewers on the edges of their seats, it involves us in the lives of all of the characters, from Jefferies and Lisa to Miss Torso. There isn’t a moment of waste in 113 minutes of screen time. This overdue restoration is greatly welcome, since it revitalises the look and sound of a timeless classic.
(1497) References: Books Belton John. Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear window. Published Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2000. Websites Review: Rear Window. 1998. 2 November 2011. http://www. reelviews. net/movies/r/rear_window. html Critical Review of Film: Rear Window. 2007. 2 November 2011. http://voices. yahoo. com/critical-review-film-rear-window-roger-and-200926. html? cat=40 Rear Window (1954). 3 November 2011. http://www. filmsite. org/rear4. html Rear Window (1954) – IMDb. 3 November 2011. http://www. imdb. com/title/tt0047396/