Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 thriller piece Rear Window opens with an uncut 2 minute shot that displays a lively New York City courtyard. The camera moves gracefully from window to window introducing a new character for a mere couple of moments before moving to the next frame. At the one minute mark in this beautiful continuous shot I had already realized that Rear Window was going to be a wonderful piece of cinema.
The premise of the film is simple; photographer L.B. Jefferies/Jeff (James Stewart) is immobile due to a broken leg and grows interested with the dynamic in his shared neighborhood courtyard. Jeff’s interests soon grow into obsession after he believes that one of his neighbors may have committed murder. For the entirety of the film Hitchcock places the audience at Jeff’s perspective restricting us to view the possible murder at an alternative angle; both literally and visually. Due to this directing choice, Jeff’s perspective is highly suggestive to the audience. Whatever Jeff believes we are forced to believe too. Because Jeff believes that his neighbor murdered his wife we also believe that he murdered her as well.
Rear Window is the typical Hitchcock film; it’s filled with suspense and thriller. But much of the core of the story is not to be credited to the murder mystery but to Hitchcock’s directing style which brilliantly reflects our protagonist’s perception. From his window Jeff views the world through a camera lens, through a frame, and virtually every other shot in Rear Window does the same by displaying movement within tangible frames, windows. As the camera shifts from window to window, we, the audience, grow infatuated with the stories in Jeff’s courtyard, just as he does. Due to a highly active camera that sees little cuts there is rarely a dull moment throughout the film’s duration.
Underneath a growing murder story and a unique form of visual storytelling, there is also a subplot which investigates the complex relationship between Jeff and his fiancée Lisa (Grace Kelly). Their relationship, however, does not feel forced and easily finds its place in the story at large. In fact we see their relationship strengthen due to their shared interest in the possible murder.
Unlike films in 2016 that are typically 2+ hours of exposition, Rear Window, and most classic films for the matter, proves to leave the majority of the story to the imagination. Like Jeff, we don’t see what happens between the space that separates windows and we are out of earshot of his neighbor’s voices. It’s a movie that, from frame to frame, lets the mind explore and put the pieces together.
Whether you are a film buff, lover of classic movies or even a casual movie watcher I recommend Rear Window to you. It’s stellar storytelling that will serve as a piece of pure escapism (why not escape from our messed up world for 2 hours?). The vivid and realistic writing of John Michael Hayes and beautifully directing of Hitchcock will undoubtedly place you right in the middle of this New York City courtyard behind the lens of Jeff’s camera.