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Smith 1 Quinlan Smith Professor Hayward FEA 205 Film History 4 April 2012 A Peep Into Point of View in Hitchcock's Rear Window Like a novel uses narration to give perspective, a film uses the camera. The point of view of the novel's narration, whether first or third person, gives meaning to the text. It follows that point of view of the camera is very important to the meaning of a film. Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 suspense thriller Rear Window is exemplary in its use the point of view camera as film form to visualize perspective. Continuing with the novel analogy, there are obvious limitations to film's ability to convey narration. Being a visual art, there is no text for a narrator to comment and elaborate on the story. Occasionally a movie will provide voice-over narration and dialogue to shed some perspective but it must still rely on the visual realm, its use of the camera, for the audience to feel any attachment. Rear Window uses first-person point of view shots and other subjective camera angles (from Jeffries' apartment) to create a sense of first-person narration, or at least its visual equivalent. All of the separate stories and character arcs of the tenants surrounding the courtyard are seen from angles in Jeffries' dark apartment (these include the interconnecting events that make up the primary story, the “murder-mystery”). Furthermore, many of these camera set-ups are from Jeffries' own subjective point of view, often in “binocular-vision” as Jeffries spies on his neighbors through binoculars or his telephoto camera lens. The audience sees what he sees and the way that these angles are edited and put into context usually matches Jeffries' subjective perspective- the audience is “in the dark” along with Jeffries. A perfect example illustrating Hitchcock's technique is the scene where Jeffries observes Thorwald wrapping a saw and knife in old newspaper. All the
Smith 2 audience can see is what Jeffries sees- a binocular view from his vantage point (his apartment) of the salesman at his sink, neatly cloaking the instruments in newspaper. There is no other perspective to suggest how Thorwald has used these tools- no cut to an assuring camera angle in Thorwald's apartment visualizing gore or any other evidence to suggest a murder and a cover-up. An explanation can only be surmised from what Jeffries has seen and the circumstances that he subjectively attributes to what he has witnessed. That is all Hitchcock gives the audience. Why is this so? Why does Hitchcock leave the audience so perplexed and in the dark from Jeffries' fleeting point of view? Firstly, Hitchcock, as an auteur, was very interested in techniques creating suspense. He was an avid experimenter in this realm and has earned the title “the master of suspense” at least in the wider public's eye (hitchcock.tv). Hitchcock himself has detailed the difference between mystery and suspense. Mystery, he says, is an “intellectual process” (mentally attempting to figure out “whodunit”) while suspense is an “emotional process” (according to him, more valid because it deals with emotion- what he considers the material of film- rather than pure intelluctualism). According to Hitchcock, to achieve suspense the filmmaker must provide the audience with information. How the information is provided is what measures the amount and value of suspense (Hitchcock). In Rear Window, the audience is fed information but it is fleeting and subjective. The audience is put in a position away from an objective, third-person, allknowing, “god-like” eye and left to figure out and explain what is witnessed from Jeffries emotional and very human point of view. Another explanation (good movies have multilayered purposes for their form) is the exploration of the theme of the ethical and moralistic value of voyeurism. Hitchcock examines motifs of voyeurism throughout- Jeffries spies suggestively on the sultry ballerina across from him, he watches with empathy the lonely spinster on the first floor, etc. Hitchcock himself does not argue a single answer to the moralistic question of voyeurism but merely puts the audience in a position to answer for themselves. He places the audience in a
Smith 3 socially acceptable circumstance for voyeurism (the cinema) and explores the deeper, darker, and artistically profound sides of voyeurism with the film's subject matter, formalistic camera technique, and narrative style. Another quote from Hitchcock: a reporter once asked, “What is the deepest logic of your films?” to which Hitchcock replied, “To put the audience through them.” (Hitchcock). If Rear Window is any evidence of this creative philosophy, Hitchcock certainly practiced what he preached. To revisit the analogy of literary narration to filmic perspective, pure visual first-person narration may be as possible as a flying pig to achieve, but with Rear Window, Hitchcock was close to getting that oinker off the ground.
Smith 4 Works Cited Alfred Hitchcock: The Difference Between Mystery & Suspense. Perf. Alfred Hitchcock. Youtube.com. American Film Institute, 5 Aug. 2009. Web. 4 Apr. 2012. . "Alfred Hitchcock: Wits and Wisdom." Alfred Hitchcock. The Alfred Hitchcock Trust. Web. 04 Apr. 2012. . Lopez-Guzman, Patricio. "Alfred Hitchcock - The Master of Suspense." Alfred Hitchcock. The Alfred Hitchcock Trust, 19 Oct. 2002. Web. 04 Apr. 2012. . Rear Window. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Prod. Alfred Hitchcock and Edith Head. By John Michael Hayes and Franz Waxman. Perf. James Stewart, Grace, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter, and Raymond Burr. Paramount Pictures Corp., 1954. DVD.