Saturday, 27 April 2013

Rear Window (1954)

It seems almost futile to write anything about Rear Window. If you've heard anything about it before, which you probably have, you'll have heard about how great it truly is, how it is one of the films that stands to represent the true genius of Alfred Hitchcock. In the near sixty years since its release, it has been written about by many people, highlighting the simplicity of the set up and the plot, which is enhanced and emphasised by masterful direction and acting. All of this doesn't mean too much to me. I've managed to avoid 'great' films for years, preferring to watch the ones I've had my eye on and have always wanted to see. I watched The Godfather Pt II during the Easter holidays simply because it has been hailed as one of the best films ever made, and I didn't think much of it.

Rear Window, however, is one of my friend Michael's favourite films. That fact tells me that I'm far more likely to enjoy it than if it was the favourite film of one of those sneering film critics for a national newspaper. You know the sort. They'll only give a film five stars if the director is from Eastern Europe and possesses a name that no one but them can pronounce. I think it gives them some sort of satisfaction, as if they're waiting for someone to bring up the review at a party and lend them the opportunity to correct their pronunciation. I find these critics loathsome, but many people will read their reviews and think that they must be the dog's bollocks because they've torn the latest blockbuster to pieces with their pen.

Don't give them the satisfaction. If you think you'll enjoy a film, go and see it, then decide what you think of it. Those critics decide whether to say they enjoyed a film depending on whether it'll make them look 'cultural' if they do. If I enjoy a film, I'll say so.

In his day, Alfred Hitchcock was known as a director for the public. Surprisingly few of his films were ever nominated for an Academy Award, and he never won best director. He made his films so that people would enjoy them, and they did. His latest film would be a cinematic event. He would appear on the poster, telling the audience how much they'd enjoy it. His name would appear in huge letters above the film's title. People would go to the cinema just because Hitchcock was attached in some way to the film. Nowadays, many people will consider him to be one of those directors whose films are only appreciated by film buffs, whose films are there to be admired rather than enjoyed. If you're one of them, go out and find Rear Window.

Of course, Hitchcock's master direction is evident throughout. There are many decisions that might not seem obvious, but make the film so unique and so enjoyable to watch. The entire film takes place within the apartment home of LB Jefferies, a news photographer who, according to a pan of his photos near the beginning, appears to specialise in pictures of disasters. The camera never ventures out of the room, and every shot is either showing Jefferies and his visitors, or what Jefferies is seeing out of his window. If he looks through his binoculars or his wonderfully huge camera, Hitchcock will make it look like the audience is looking through these things too. The only time he enters the head of someone else is near the end, when we're spectacularly shown the effects of Jefferies' flash bulb on another's sight.

The splendid direction is just a part of what makes the film so great, though. The story is engrossing. James Stewart's LB Jefferies is a photographer who has been confined to his apartment for weeks with a broken leg. We are introduced to his nurse, who has a Holmesian skill at deduction, and the gorgeous Grace Kelly as his girlfriend, who is irritated at his reluctance to get married in one of Hitchcock's famous MacGuffins. Things get interesting, though, when Jefferies, in one of his long spells of boredom, notices one of his neighbours acting rather suspiciously, and with each passing day, he grows more and more convinced that he has murdered his wife. He gets his visitors involved, too, and soon everyone who comes into his apartment is just as convinced as he is. As the film grows in intensity, Jefferies and his friends try to figure out what they can do to prove the neighbour's guilt and stop him.

At the beginning, when we're shown what Jefferies sees of his idiosyncratic neighbours outside his window, the film is as lighthearted as a comedy, and often as funny as the best ones out today. By the end, I was leaning forward in my seat with sweaty hands, wondering what could happen next as the Master of Suspense lived up to his name. Rear Window shows you exactly why Alfred Hitchcock is a name everyone recognises even today. Not because critics can't stop talking about what a genius he was, but because everyone is able to see what a genius he was, quite clearly. When he worked with the best, the films that resulted can be appreciated by all as a masterpiece.

When he was working, Hitchcock was a phenomenon amongst the movie-going public. Why should it be any different today?

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