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Rear Window

Textual Examination of the Opening Scene of Rear Window

Neha Joshi

on 26 November 2015

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Transcript of Rear Window

Rear Window
Conventions of a Thriller
Although Rear Window is regarded as one of the most exquisite thrillers of all time, the opening scene follows some of the proprieties of a classic thriller film
For instance, the narrative is focused around mystery and suspense. This mood is brought upon by the broken objects in Jeffries' room- including the broken camera, and even his broken leg. Also, the opening shot shows Mr. and Mrs. Thorwald arguing, hence building suspense that will continue to develop throughout the film.
Conventions of a Thriller
The disparate micro elements help to build apprehension amongst the audience. This is conveyed by the suspenseful, yet upbeat music along with the broken objects seen in the scene.
The theme of voyeurism is also introduced in the opening scene. In this scenario, the voyeurism involves Miss 'Torso' and Jeff's constant glances towards her. This is further articulated by Miss Lonelyheart's costume which is intentionally revealing, to introduce the concept of voyerism which builds throughout the film.
Lastly, the convention of an ordinary man doing extraordinary things is portrayed.
Todorov's Narrative Theory
Todorov's theory is a salient film technique and suggests that most film plots follow a circular path.
1st Stage: Equilibrium- Refers to the start of the film where all the characters are content. The pan shot shows all the neighbors and each seems happy.
2nd Stage: A Disruption (Disequilibrium)- This is seen as Jeffries's slowly begins to uncover the mystery behing Mrs. Thorwald's death.
3rd Stage: Recognition- This is when Jeffries's becomes certain that Thorwald committed the crime and tells Lisa all the details
4th Stage: Reparations- This occurs when Jeffries calls his friend, a detective, and when he writes the letter to Thorwald and Lisa goes to Thorwald's environment and finds the wedding ring.
5th Stage: Return to Equilibrium: Thorwald is caught, and the ending shot shows that each of the neighbors's issues are resolved, and Jeffries' turns his back to the window ( as he is seen doing in the opening scene)

Mise en Scene
Hitchcock skillfully uses mise en scene to convey several of the themes in the film
In the opening scene, the male characters are typically wearing plain and dull clothes, whereas the females have costumes that are more vibrant.
This is used to show not only the changing gender power dynamics of the time, but to also forshadow how Jeffries' views about Lisa change.
He starts off as being unsure of his relationship with her as he thinks of her as being opulent and lavish.
However, Lisa progresses to become the hero of the film, which is one of the ways that Hitchcock strays from the popular thrillers of the day.

The mise en scene also conveys the concept of brokeness.
In Jeffries' apartment, we see Jeffries' in his wheelchair, and his cast reads "Here lie the broken bones of L. B. Jefferies." That sounds like a message on a gravestone. Thereafter, we see the picture he took before his accident and the broken camera.
These all suggest that due to Jeffries' paralysis, he was missing a very important part of his life.
Because he was a photgrapher, his instinct to look outside his window seems more natural.
Theme: Paralysis
The theme of paralysis is seen both physically and mentally.
Jeffries's is physically paralyzed, but this also acutely impacts his behavior.
He constantly looks out the window, and he does to rid himself of his boredom.
His mental paralysis is seen in the way he regards his relationship with Lisa at the start of the story, Yet, he gradually grows out of that as he sees the intelligence that lies behind Lisa's exorbitant outfits.
Lisa also changes in the film, as at the end she leaves her lavish clothing for a pair of jeans and a simple shirt. She begins to adapt to Jeff's lifestyle but also retains some of the things she likes- like her fashion magazines.
Theme: Voyeurism
The theme of voyeurism is at once introduced as the movie starts from the audience looking through a window.
Since Jeff is confined to his wheelchair, that limits the spectator's point of view, and is used to help the audience identify with the protagonist.
By showing most of the scenes from Jeff's POV, Hitchcock insists that all the viewers are also voyeurs.
He is thus suggesting than looking into the lives of others is not only an attribite of Jeffries' but of that of human nature itself
Historical Background
Rear Window was made during the Postwar Period (1946–1959)
1. Cold War: Communism
Between 1950 and 1955 McCarthyism reached its peak
The United States was in a communist scare
Friends through friends under the bus and neighbors turned on neighbors
In other words, suspicion went uncontrolled and out of hand as there was a lack of trust.
Hitchcock was influenced by the social conflict in America during this period
Therefore, he incorporated these elements into his film, Rear Window.
Ex. Jeff suspicious of his neighbor, Mr. Thorwald. Thorwald's actions raise further speculations.

Historical Background
2. Gender roles
During World War 2, women moved into the workforce in order to help out in the war effort
After World War 2, many women did not desire to return to the prewar status quo of domesticity
Rear Window breaks free from the stereotype where the men are the active, dominant figures and the women are the passive, powerless figures
Lisa Fremont is one of these professional women of the 1950s who is independent-minded, authoritative, and full of initiative
Therefore, she poses a threat to this stereotype as she undermines this system by not returning to her pre-war confinement
The tradition of male domination was deteriorating

Historical Background
3. Marriage rates dramatically increased in the early 1950s.
The 1950s have been described as the “golden age” of marriage in the United States
This is depicted by the young, newlywed couple in Rear Window
Hence, there was a great deal of social pressure to marry
Ex. Jeff feeling pressured to marry Lisa Freemont

Historical Background
Other Films that share the same conventions or similar directing styles
Movies that incorporate McCarthyism
Young and Innocent (1937)
Strangers on a Train (1957)
To Catch a Thief (1955)

Introduction (Plot Summary)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock and released by Paramount Pictures, this film is known as one of the greatest films ever made as it received four academy awards
L.B. Jeffries, who broke his leg while filming a racetrack event, spends his days entrapped in his apartment, observing his neighbors through his rear window
He begins to get suspicious of Lars Thorwald, whose wife mysteriously disappears; Jeffries believes Thorwald had murdered his wife
The police manage to arrest Thorwald after proven guilty, but Jeffries ends up breaking his other leg

Director’s Background and Intent

Often nicknamed “master of suspense”, his style includes thrilling and suspenseful plots and is known to emphasize themes of anxiety, fear, and empathy
his films use the style of voyeurism
“ You can make him look at one thing, look at another. Without him speaking, you can show his mind at work”-Hitchcock
Hitchcock made it so that the voyeuristic shots make the audience share the same feelings as Jeffries; therefore, the audience finds themselves wanting the murder to have occurred; the audience overlooks Mrs. Thorwald’s death out of the desire for excitement, just like Jeffries

Intro. Cont. (Awards and Critiques)

Has received four academy awards: Best Director for Alfred Hitchcock, Best Screenplay for John Michael Hayes, Color for Robert Burkes, and Best Sound Recording for Loren L. Ryder, Paramount Pictures
Initial reception: universally praised and considered as one of Hitchcock’s finest films
Bosley Crowther: “Mr. Hitchcock's film is not 'significant’. But it does expose many facets of the loneliness of city life and it tacitly demonstrates the impulse of morbid curiosity.”
Roger Ebert (1983): “The film develops such a clean, uncluttered line from beginning to end that we're drawn through it (and into it) effortlessly. The experience is not so much like watching a movie, as like ... well, like spying on your neighbors.”
(1997): U.S. National Film Registry preserved this film as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
(2015): 37-highest rated film on the Internet Movie Database

Introduction Cont. (Excerpt Choice and Significance)

Excerpt: opening scene involves the voyeuristic shot of the apartment buildings where Jeffries lives; more specifically, the scene emphasizes the open windows of the neighbors
It is interesting how the scene includes every part of the setting that will be included in the movie, which leads to its significance: the scene sets a basic outline and prepares the audience for what they will be observing in the film
The voyeuristic shot gives the audience a pleasant vibe and initial glimpse into Jeffries’ perspective of his neighbors
The shots act as Jeffries would, cutting from one image to the next; additionally, each of the windows can be considered a movie screen in Jeffries’ perspective, so it can be seen as a movie within a movie

Scene Analysis - The Opening Sequence

The Scene
- The Movie opens with a pan around of all the visible areas from the window, this establishes that the current scene that the viewers see is all that will be shown in the movie. This scene ends looking into the window at the Thorwald's as they are having a fight.
Camera Movement
- The initial shot of the opening scene is a single fluid pan around of the courtyard that ends on the sweating face on Jefferies. The shot switches over to the thermometer then pans out over the courtyard again but with a close view of the more significant dwellers of the other apartments. The shot is one fluid motion that pauses on each significant characters, the shot points at Jefferies broken leg then back up and pans around to look at Jefferies cameras and photographs before he got injured.
- The final portion of the scene crosscuts between Jeffries point of view of the neighbors houses and a third person POV of Jefferies himself talking on the phone with his editor.
- The set lighting is meant to look like outside as, the set was inside a film warehouse so the lighting had to look as if the scene was outside. The lighting in the scene tells us it’s the morning (it is also shown by the characters actions). Jefferies apartment is quite dark in comparison to this neighbors.

Scene Analysis Cont.

Camera Movements
- The initial pan around the courtyard windows establishes that what is shown is where everything will happen. The scene shown is the scene of interest. The second pan around establishes the characters of interest and tells the viewers a little about the characters themselves. The motion around Jefferies room, tell us that Jefferies lives a more interesting life and his incapacitated state doesn’t agree with his nature.
- The crosscutting between the 3rd person POV of Jefferies talking with his editor and Jefferies POV of his neighbors. This scene establishes some of the characters and how they interact and what they are like. At the end of the scene Jeff is explaining what he feels married life would be like, it is the exact scene he is watching the Thorwald’s act out. In this sense the characters he watches he sees them as his possible futures. It only establishes the Thorwald’s present as a possible future if he and Lisa would marry.
- The scene is lit as if it was outside in the late morning early afternoon, the neighbors apartments are well light, whereas Jefferies' is very dark. Emphasizing Jefferies feeling of entrapment and showing that the only interest is outside his window, outside his apartment

Scene Analysis

Set Design:
The entire set is only a neighborhood with only a couple people living there. It shows an apartment with people of the middle socioeconomic class.
This combined with the hot temperature seen from the thermometer. The hot temperature creates a mood of tension.
Also right from the beginning Jeffries is shown in his apartment with his belongings. They are broken, thus accentuating the motif of ‘brokenness’
All the houses start out with their windows open, hence showing that the neighbors were all very open and did not feel that they needed to conduct their lives in private.
The people that are in the movie throughout the neighborhood reflect how Jeffries feels about his life or what he feels could happen in his life.

Scene Analysis

Throughout the beginning of the movie there is natural sound from the background being played throughout however since it has no obvious location it is diegetic which gives the viewer more of a sense of the surroundings always around him.
Also whenever he is watching somebody in the neighborhood, the sound from them increases showing his focus on them.
All of this adds to the suspense which is combined even more when they play the eerie music after the phone call builds the suspense and tension in the environment which occurs while Thornwall is by his plants.
Also while Thornwall is down with his plants, you hear sirens in the background which foreshadows a feeling that something bad will occur related to him.

Scene Analysis

Jeffries- He has bland clothes and a cast on, thus showing his inactivity and mental and physical paralysis.
Thornwall- He is wearing a suit and carrying a case for work.
Women- All the women in this movie wear dresses.
Dancer- She is wearing very revealing clothes, hence showing her scandalous persona.
Works Cited

Fraley, Jason. "Rear Window 1954." The Film Spectrum. Wordpress, 1 Nov. 2011. Web.
"Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954): The Limited Perspective of the Voyeur."The Artifice. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2015. <http://the-artifice.com/hitchcock-rear-window-1954-voyeur/>.

"Rear Window." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.
Wildsmith, Elizabeth, and R. Kelly Raley. "Race-Ethnic Differences in Nonmarital Fertility: A Focus on Mexican American Women." J Marriage and Family Journal of Marriage and Family 68.2 (2006): 491-508. Web.
"Rear Window - Alfred Hitchcock - Introduction Analysis." P120 Thriller Opening. N.p., 13 Jan. 2013. Web. 20 Nov. 2015.

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