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Recreating Alfred Hitchcock is just about impossible. Sure, we've had a myriad of attempts, from Chris Reeve's bland television version of Rear Window to Gus Van Sant's perfectly hollow recreation of Psycho. But Alfred's the master -- a filmmaker who could marry technique with story, making a film as critically exciting as it is entertaining, eliciting similar love from critics and moviegoers alike, whether the eye is trained towards technique or intrigue.
Rear Window is a little different. This is one of Hitchcock's most respected works, but it's also one that's often shuffled aside when it comes to fame. There were times when it was unavailable to the eager audience at large, and the film certainly doesn't have the sheer name power that, say, Psycho boasted. Nevertheless, Rear Window is a film that can seem, at once, both dated and modern, able to pluck at tension while also remaining relevant over 50 years later.
The most notable aspect of Rear Window is, without a doubt, the battle between stagnancy and movement. L.B. Jeffries is a distinguished adventurer shackled with almost complete immobility. He yearns to move, but can only do so with his eyes and his mind. He travels or moves as a voyeur, scanning the lives of his fellow courtyard-facing residents. Since he cannot interview and immerse himself in their lives, he fills in the blanks himself (a troublesome habit, even if he is ultimately right). And Hitchcock is stuck in the apartment just like Jeffries. Except for a few key scenes during the film's climax, the camera is trapped inside that room, moving just as desperately as Jeffries' eyes. It continually scans the courtyard, lingering on the lives moving full-speed ahead, and suffering the solitude and seclusion of being tied to one space.
Clashing movement with inaction, Hitchcock dares to let the story and actors have the power, rather than trying to pluck at our nerves with cinematic techniques. This is why the film still succeeds while adaptations like Disturbia fail. D.J. Caruso's lens is not content to stay in one place, resting on one's immobility. He breaks the wall of isolation to investigate Turner's house; Shia LaBeouf's Kale isn't nearly as incapacitated as Jeffries. For all the movie's stagnancy, there's also a lot of mobility. There is never that growing panic of feeling completely helpless, able to do nothing but watch, which is the heart of this story. We have one foot out the door with Disturbia, our nerves manipulated not by our inability to do something, but by the usual jump-out-and-scare-you horror tricks that never strike as deeply.
I can't help but compare Caruso's film with Jeffries' initial, superficial opinions of Lisa. Jeffries thinks she is perfection -- too beautiful and sophisticated, but those just seem like codewords for shallow. She has all the bells and whistles that should make for perfection, but L.B. is detached. That is, until he starts to see her spark, and realize that while she's quite quintessentially feminine and proper, she has an adventurous streak within her that works perfectly with Jeffries' own personality. You can see the awe grow in Stewart's eyes through each passing revelation. Disturbia, however, gives the outline of isolation and creepiness, without serving the depth and understanding of how and why solitude is chilling.
And why watch an adaptation that fails to bring the same subtlety when the source is not only entertaining, but still modern?
At one point, Grace Kelly's Lisa says: "We became a race of Peeping Toms." She gripes about a society that needs to get out and look in for a change. While, in the case of this story, it's talking about old-school voyeurism, today it's an apt metaphor for our lives locked to the internet, to our relationship with the celebrities in Hollywood, and even to the world at large. We look out, rather than in, news and gossip stories are our window into life, where we fill in the blanks and judgments ... not always with Jeffries' accuracy. It's hard not to be reminded of present-day life as the camera rests on the ballerina's perky, half-dressed ways, intrigued and aroused, before it is saddened by the terrible life of Miss Lonelyhearts -- watching her spiral out of control and doing nothing to stop it.
But Hitchcock also doesn't forget the creepiness of voyeurism, and the many problematic aspects of peeping. Detective Doyle's inability to believe Jeffries might be annoying to himself and us, but Doyle is the voice of reason -- the idea that while it might be easy to jump to the conclusion that Thorwald is a murderer, it's circumstantial at best, and easily explained away. The film both condones and condemns peeping -- showing the value of catching a murderer, whilst revealing the inherent problems with that course of action and continually digging into the dynamics between action and inaction.
Ultimately, there's are so many small aspects and moments to pull out and discuss, whether it's one of the film's many binary relationships, or even the unintended and engaging aspects, so...
- The courtyard outside Jeffries' window is highly theatrical. Only the most minimal attempts are used to make it seem realistic. Does this heighten the feeling that the fellow residents are actors in Jeffries' show, or does it take you out of the cinematic experience?
- Hitchcock finds no line between open windows revealing lit action, and drawn blinds that fail to obscure the actions inside. Is there a line, or is anything visible fair play?
- What do you think of the attempts to make Lisa have more depth? She certainly succeeds in being bold and daring, but seems downright silly when she proves her small suitcase by packing overly formal and fancy pajamas inside.
- We're used to a cinematic world where heroes defy all odds to be saviors. Jeffries doesn't try to foolishly get up, ignore the pain, and help Lisa when Thorwald catches her. Is his immobility realistic, or simply wimpy?
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