Friday, March 20, 2009
Recent analyses of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window have started to focus on an idea I began floating in a research paper 16 years ago for my professor, noted Hitchcock historian William Rothman. Don't get me wrong. I'm not taking credit. But I am saying that this reading of the film has been around at least this long, if not longer. The theory is that the courtyard pictured above, the one the titular rear window belonging to the convalescing L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart) overlooks, is not just a proscenium allowing him to exercise some of his voyeuristic tendencies. This courtyard and its individual apartments are a physical manifestation of Jefferies' fears in regard to committing to socialite Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly). Each dwelling represents a compartment in Jefferies' own mind, housing a specific misgiving he has about marrying the eager Lisa.
The first apartment to overtly draw the connection to Jefferies' thoughts on marriage is the one with the newlyweds (Rand Harper, Havis Davenport). This one gives Lisa ammunition in the couple's contest of wills over the fate of their relationship, providing credence to the idea of marital bliss, as the honeymooning couple keep their window shades drawn and, we assume, enjoy making love over the entire course of the film. The bubble is burst at the climax of the film when the newlyweds have their first fight.
The next apartment belongs to Miss Torso (Georgine Darcy), a beautiful, voluptuous, serial dater that entertains a seemingly revolving doors-worth of suitors (once even hosting several simultaneously). This represents Jefferies' fear of Lisa's activities while he is away on photography assignments. Lisa's assurances that Miss Torso is not interested in any of the men gains traction when the woman's boyfriend returns from the service. A schlubby short fellow, he is the only one on who she ends up showering physical affection.
Upstairs from Miss Torso is the older couple (Sara Berner, Frank Cady) with the puppy. They signify Jefferies' fears that if he waits too long to commit, Lisa and he will be reduced to a pair of Bickersons, doting on some child or animal, communicating through that object of affection instead of directly to each other.
Downstairs from Miss Torso is Miss Lonelyheart (Judith Evelyn) and across the way from Jefferies is the songwriter (Ross Bagdasarian). Each of them are archetypes that stand in for our central characters' self-image. Miss Lonelyheart play-acts what it must be like to be married and loved, making dinners for two despite sliding into near suicidal depression over the course of the movie as the reality of her loneliness begins to overwhelm her. Lisa identifies with her, just as Jefferies, a passionate photographer, identifies with the songwriter. The songwriter is an uncompromising artist, working on compositions well into the night. He crowds out sleep and romance in the service of his art. By film's end, the two apartment dwellers have noticed each other and taken tentative steps towards romance, foreshadowing Jefferies and Lisa's own romantic resolution.
Perhaps the window that scares Jefferies the most is the one that belongs to the film's antagonist, Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr). It is here that Jefferies darkly sympathizes with Thorwald's situation. Jefferies' ultimate fear is to have compromised so much in a relationship and feel so trapped, he finds the only way he can escape is to murder his wife (a frighteningly real option in a time when divorce led to social ostracizing). It is the horrific reality of this particular situation that forces Lisa to break into Thorwald's apartment. In acting out a way to bring justice to this murderer, Lisa is physically combating Jefferies' worst fear, hoping to convince him that he would never give in to this dark aspect personified in Thorwald. When viewed through this prism of commitment, Rear Window takes on a different flavor indeed.
Rear Window is presented for free at the 5th Annual Robert Osborne's Classic Film Festival. It screens this afternoon at 4:30 p.m. where Mr. Osborne and co-host Fred Willard will discuss the film after the screening with their guest, James C. Katz, producer of the 1998 restoration. All films screen at the Classic Center, 300 N. Thomas Street, Athens, GA 30601, (706) 208-0900 or (800) 918-6393.