Having admitted in a recent review to being ‘not much of a reader’ it would seem somewhat duplicitous to go straight back to a novel or play or collection of poetry and sing its praises. Rather than appear two-faced I shall stick to my first love – the silver screen.
Currently, my time is consumed by re-writing my Year 11 Literature course for 2016 as the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority has seen it fit to shift the goal posts just when I thought I was getting the hang of it. The upshot of this is that I am to lose my ability to round out the first semester from here on by teaching Rear Window. Having taught it seven times I feel I have refined my delivery and breakdown of the film to a fine art. Hitchcock’s masterpiece has become so much a part of me that the other day my class observed that my hairstyle very slightly resembles that of Grace Kelly’s at the conclusion of the film. I’m not sure whether I should be distressed by that or see it as a great compliment to my beauty.
Rear Window was a film I inherited from a previous teacher. I had studied it myself at university as it is ‘the well-made film’ often trotted out when learning about film, film analysis or film making. Master of suspense he may be, but I find Hitchcock’s construction of real characters the real work of art in Rear Window. He is, of course, aided by Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly and Raymond Burr who all seem to simply live inside their respective characters. Having seen the film so many times now I find it hard to watch ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’, ‘To Catch A Thief’ or classic Perry Mason and disassociate these leads from their characters.
For those uninitiated film-goers and those unfamiliar with The Simpson’s episode ‘Bart of Darkness’ (a wonderful homage and well worth 20 minutes of your time) the basic plot of Rear Window is that protagonist LB Jeffries is stuck in his New York apartment during a heatwave due to a broken leg he gained snapping daring photos in his role as a photo-journalist. Finding himself lost for things to do he has little option other to spy on his neighbours – it is after all the height of McCarthyism. While doing so he believes to have discovered that the man in the opposite apartment has murdered and disposed of his wife. As is custom Hitchcock appears briefly in his trademark cameo and Grace Kelly essentially saves the day because she is somewhat stunning. The film seems to be all about unravelling the truth and exploring the ethics of spying on your neighbours even if uncovering a hideous crime. In truth however, the film is about the relationship between LB and his gloriously attractive girlfriend Lisa Freemont.
Lisa desperately wants to settle down with LB. She may be a successful woman in her own right but it is the 1950s so really she has to find a way to please her man and become a housewife. Lisa’s world and LB’s life are so very different that LB is convinced Lisa could never change (heaven forbid he were to alter himself!) and so she sets about showing him otherwise. In one of the most brilliant pieces of cinema ever to exist on celluloid Lisa scales the building opposite and breaks into the murderer’s home to find the required evidence but more importantly to show he beau that she can cut the mustard. The tension created is so intense that even all these years later in the age ‘The Blair Witch’ and such young people still jump and scream as they see her peril creeping closer. The only moment to illicit a stronger reaction is when the ‘killer’ stares down the barrel of LB’s telephoto lens and right into the eyes of the audience. He catches us watching him and lets us know that he is displeased. I have almost had to pick students with weak constitutions up from the floor after that!
But sadly this is my final chance to teach Rear Window. The new Literature course does not have an outcome where film is the focus. I am relishing the chance to pull the film apart for the final time and, yes, I am still finding new things even after all these years.
Hitch really is a master. I love that Rear Window has become the gateway drug to older cinema for my students. I have lost a few copies of ‘North By Northwest’ to the masses after lending them out and I think someone still has a copy of ‘The Birds’ that I need to get back as well. It is gratifying to find that the old stuff really is just as good as the new stuff (I shall not mention LeBeouf’s dreadful reboot of Rear Window in the 2007 crapfest ‘Disturbia’). I sometimes even manage to sneak into my unit the episode of That 70’s Show ‘To Old To Trick Or Treat, To Young To Die’. But take this advice: before you see Fez in fishnets you must go and watch the original and the best – Rear Window.