WORKSHEET #4: Rear Window
SUBMISSION DATE: Friday April 11th
Rear Window (1954) is one of director Alfred Hitchcock’s most successful and well-known films. Upon its initial release it was both a critical and commercial success and its reputation as one of the Hitchcock’s masterpieces has grown over the decades since. In a recent AFI (American Film Institute) poll, Rear Window came in at #42 on the list of the 100 greatest films ever made with three other Hitchcock films in the top 100: Psycho (#18), North by Northwest (#40) and Vertigo (#61). It is worth mentioning that in a similar BFI (British Film Institute) poll conducted a year later, Rear Window was ranked at #53 (interestingly enough in a tie with North by Northwest) whilst first place was actually taken by Vertigo. This points to a couple of interesting issues, not least of which is the unreliability of these kinds of polls! At the same time however, the ubiquitous presence of Hitchcock movies in any sort of “greatest ever film” list it is a testament not only to his abilities as a filmmaker but also the longevity of a career that spanned over 50 years. But it also needs further note that the four films mentioned above were all made between 1954 and 1960 and it is really these years that are considered Hitchcock’s golden period.
Hitchcock was a consummate filmmaker and a paradigmatic example of what is known as an auteur. He was obsessively concerned with every aspect and element of his films’ production from the editing to the set design to the costume to the sound production. He would meticulously storyboard every shot and scene before a single foot of film had been recorded. Though he frequently worked with the same male actors in numerous films (James Stewart appeared in four of his movies) Hitchcock is most well-known for the ubiquitous presence of a succession “ice-cool blondes” such as Eve-Marie Saint, Ingrid Bergman, Tippi Hedren, Janet Leigh, Doris Day, Kim Novak and, of course, Grace Kelly. In a series of interviews with the French director Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock acknowledged this preference for a certain type of blonde actress because their icy aloofness offered (as Truffaut put it) “the paradox between the inner life and cool surface.”
This paradox points us towards an interesting and productive way to think about film generally which is to consider the relationship between surface and depth. In other words, and as the readings in your coursepack demonstrate, film is a complex, complicated, and multi-layered creative form. Even the most seemingly straightforward and traditional narrative film such as The Lion King (1994) contains layers of meaning that might not be immediately apparent if all we do is get sucked in by the story line and the emotional life of the characters. What makes Hitchcock such an interesting filmmaker is that he builds into his…