The influential work of Alfred Hitchcock in Rear Window is nothing short of genius.

The technical side of Rear Window

The Story:

Jeff, a magazine photographer, is recovering from a broken leg while stuck in his apartment. Since he is bound to his wheelchair, he passes the time by looking out his window and watching his neighbors. Jeff finds amusement in learning of his neighbors’ lifestyles, but soon becomes too curious when he suspects a man of murdering his wife. Jeff can only take matters into his own hands through the help of some of his friends.

The Art:

If there’s one thing to take away from watching Rear Window, it’s that the story and dialogue are the least important parts of the film. This is because¬†Alfred Hitchcock was very passionate about creating a film that would engage the audience just from the technical aspects of film making. Hitchcock achieved this by incorporating very specific framing techniques in a scene as well as the utilizing the appropriate editing to each frame.

The Kuleshov Effect is an editing technique that combines two separate shots to correlate with each other in just one scene. For example, a closeup shot of Jeff looking through his camera lens cuts quickly to another scene of a woman in front of her window, appearing to be Jeff’s perspective, and then cuts back to Jeff again. The film reel is cut and spliced with another reel and this technique creates a meaningful interaction between the two separate shots. Hitchcock was notorious for using this technique in his films to help imply emotion, feeling, and building suspense.

Coinciding with this editing technique, Hitchcock framed for emotion and often included close ups of his characters. He was a huge believer in leaving room for the imagination and not giving the audience more than necessary. We don’t see any more than Jeff does in Rear Window, yet we find ourselves consumed with suspense and thrill based on the build up.

Another notable Hitchcock-esque element is his use of dramatic lighting. No crazy makeup or computer graphics are needed to make a scene scary. Strong light that creates high contrast is the most simplest way to add tension, mystery, and darkness into a scene. Is it always natural looking light? No, but with Hitchcock – it’s completely necessary.

Along with this technical aspect of¬†Rear Window, we are given just enough information to make our analysis of little details that are left for us. The opening scene shows a framed image of a negative of his love interest Lisa, played by Grace Kelly before the camera pans over to show that same photograph, developed, on the cover of a magazine. Not only does that show us Jeff is the photographer who took that picture, but we learn that he’s not interested in the perfect and fancy side of things. Placing the negative inside a picture frame illustrates how he would rather have the backwards and imperfect side of things than the ideal representation of it. This is an issue that comes up several times between Jeff and Lisa.

Rear Window is full of metaphors. The biggest one would have to be the very window Jeff gazes out of. Windows provide a glimpse of freedom, allowing us to see what’s on the other side. But in this film, they are used as a device of peering into the private lives of people and exposing them. Looking into windows will only give us one side to the story, assumptions and all. We cannot fully decipher everything truly happening but will still find ourselves making it up. As a photographer, Jeff’s job is to provide the world with his representation of a person, place, or thing. But as he is stuck in his apartment looking through his window, it’s part of his instinct to interpret who his neighbors are based on what he can see.

Alfred Hitchcock knows just what the audience needs and wants. He pushes the boundaries in both a subtle and startling way and truly is the master of suspense. The techniques and intent he encompasses in his films helps entertain his viewers while providing artists with inspiration to embody these things in their own work.

 

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock

Produced By: Alfred Hitchcock

Screenplay By: John Michael Hayes

Starring: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey

Distributed By: Paramount Pictures

Release Date: August 1, 1954

Run Time: 112 Minutes

Rating: PG

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