As I sit down on a cold October evening in a Starbucks on a busy street I unload my laptop to prepare for an alternate movie viewing experience. I notice swift glances towards my direction and then the glances adjust back to their previous positions. Life is a constant game of stealing a glimpse of someone’s life while trying not to get caught. The movie Rear Window directed by Alfred Hitchcock begins to play on my laptop with the sound buzzing through the speakers. The patrons of Starbucks seem to become uneasy as if they have previous knowledge that this film is about them, the people being watched. It is an unsettling experience watching a movie while being observed by strangers rather than comforted by the darkness provided in a theatre.
The theft warnings have passed and now it is time for the story. The window blinds open as curtains to a theatre stage are normally lifted. A courtyard revealing the rear exterior of apartment buildings are unveiled, the apartments represent the backs of stranger’s heads, I can see them but they can not see me. The camera pans and tilts introducing each character to the audience. -I notice a lady in Starbucks looking towards the door each time someone walks in, she is waiting for someone. Every hand that reaches for the door is a thrill to see who the newcomer is.- Hitchcock uses the neighbours in the same manner, showing parts of the neighbours but never completely revealing who they are. A woman’s hand unveils a bird cage on the window sill, a man awakes on the fire escape and then a woman at his feet awakes soon after and a young woman dances around topless. The main character Jefferies is introduced, “L.B.Jefferies” is written on his casted leg comically punned as he is a cast member of this film. The polite introductions are over and the audience is now reliant on Mr. Jefferies point of view to guide them through the mystery.
(Hitchcock, “Rear Window”)
Mr. Jefferies looks up at the 3rd floor apartments across the courtyard and the camera tilts to follow his gaze showing the pianist tries to compose a new song. The camera tilts down to an eye level shot on the 2nd floor apartment revealing a half dressed dancer, “Miss Torso” she is later named. -As I watch Mr. Jefferies watch his neighbours I notice that the Starbucks patrons are watching me. How long does the circle of people watching go on? How many people are watching the people watching me? My head starts to bob up and down, side to side as I watch what is going on around me similar to the camera following Mr. Jefferies gaze. It is difficult to spy on other people’s lives and not be discovered as an intruder of their privacy yet somehow Mr. Jefferies is a fairly successful spy.-Mr. Jefferies spots a single, middle aged woman known to the main characters as Ms. Lonely Hearts as she creates a meal for two. Ms. Lonely Hearts offers a cheers to the empty seat across the table and Mr. Jefferies anonymously gives a toast back to her as the camera frame tilts to peer through the window of her first floor apartment. – Looking around I see people drinking their coffees together and every time they take a sip there seems to be some invisible force handling my coffee to my own lips. Perhaps that is a survival instinct for people to never feel alone.- Mr. Jefferies spots Ms. Lonely Hearts attempting to kill herself to escape the loneliness that is her life with a handful of pills but was thankfully stopped by the 3rd floor pianist’s music playing through the window. Mr. Jefferies gains a responsibility, as a result of watching his neighbours, of either preventing dangerous incidents like Ms. Lonely Hearts attempted suicide or waiting till the incident must be reported. – As I look around at the patrons sipping their coffees I wonder who will witness the tragedies of my life and what choice they will make to prevent or report the incident.- The cinematic experience allows the audience to be passive viewers. Mr. Jefferies carries the moral responsibility to act upon what he sees. -The character Beverly Clark played by Susan Sarandan from the 2004 movie Shall We Dance explains that humans have a duty to be a witness.
(Chelsom, “Shall we dance?”)
Beverly Clark: “Because we need a witness to our lives,
There’s a billion people on the planet, I mean, what does any one life really mean?
But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything –
the good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things,,,
Allofit. Allthetime, everyday.
You’re saying, “Your life will not go unnoticed, because I will notice it,
“Your life will not go unwitnessed, because I will be your witness,”
You can quote me on that, if you like,”
(Chelsom, “Shall we dance?”)
Communities are people living together and watching each other. People want to be watched, noticed and heard they just don’t want to admit it. The reason people spy on the person sitting next to them is curiosity and then they feel a little shameful because they were taught not to pry. But people don’t feel bad enough about spying to quit because they know everyone does it. Lisa disregards common courtesies, scaffolds the ladder and crawls through the window of Lars Thorwald’s apartment. How far do people go to learn information about strangers? -To find the answer I search the busy Starbucks. A lady moves her chair closer in the cafe to overhear someone else’s conversation. A man peers over his girlfriends shoulder at her cell phone. And I chose a spot on Broadway to watch people while I watched a movie.- The insurance company nurse, Stella is correct when she tells Mr. Jefferies “we have become a race of peeping toms”. Stella references the infamous peeping Tom and warns Mr. Jefferies to stay out of trouble.
Biographical Note for peeping tom:
“Peeping Tom,, British legendary character. According to popular legend, Tom was a prying tailor who was struck blind (or, in some versions, struck dead) as he watched Lady Godiva when she rode naked through the streets of Coventry, England, as a protest against the heavy taxes imposed upon the citizens of Coventry.”
Cinemas are naturally mysterious, people sitting and watching in the dark are prevented from watching the the people sitting next to them. In Rear Window the room becomes dark when something bad is about to happen. Ms. Lonely Hearts blind date closes the blinds before attempting to rape her, Mr. Thorwald hurts Lucy the intruder but first turns out the lights, Mr. Thorwald turns out the lights in the hallway before trying to kill Mr. Jefferies. The camera switches from close up to medium shot and back and forth as if the camera lens was a heartbeat accelerating with nervousness as Mr. Jefferies waits for Mr. Thorwald in the dark. -My heartbeat accelerates in the same manner as the camera when I am caught analyzing the woman across the cafe.-To prevent Mr. Thorwald from killing him, Mr. Jefferies blinds his attacker with flash bulbs from his camera. The blinding light doubles as a weapon disabling the attacker and a symbol of goodness, preventing anything bad from happening. -I want to turn off the lights and be enveloped by the darkness of a theatre to escape the unmoving glare of my female victim.- The binaries of light and dark, good and bad are comforting in movies because the hero is expected to win and the darkness will only last a few seconds. The Starbucks leaves the lights on even after closing in hope that nothing bad can happen in the dark but robberies and vandalism still occur. Cinemas turn the lights off during movies so the audience knows to expect danger, the lie is when the lights are turn on and people think they are safe. To quote Twenty One Pilots, “You will never know the murderer standing next to you.”
by ew Kalea
Watching Rear Window in public compared to a theatre setting changed the purpose of watching from entertainment to ethnographic field work. The movie was in the background of my consciousness but the people around me were the foreground. The lights in Starbucks acted as spotlights on the strangers surrounding me and as a spotlight on myself. Movies were made with the intention of a fully attentive audience, anything less is a fraudulent attempt at a cinematic viewing. The window blinds to Mr. Jefferies rear window rolls down to indicate the end of the movies, the lights are on as they always have been and the laptop closes.- The Starbucks patrons are still watching me even though the show is over. If I viewed Rear Window in a theatre the other viewers would have adverted their gaze to a strict ground shot of their shuffling feet. I am in public with the lights on and I have never felt less safe.-
(Hitchcock, “Rear Window”)
Dictionary, Marriam-Webster. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 2006. Print.
Kalea, Ew. “Heathens- Twenty One Pilots.” YouTube. YouTube, 16 June 2016. Web. 28 Oct. 2016.
Rear Window. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Perf. James Stewart and Grace Kelly. Paramount, 1954. DVD.
Shall We Dance? Dir. Peter Chelsom. Perf. Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez. Miramax Films, 2004. DVD.