A Rear Window Point of View

Some stories grab you by the throat, plunge you in from the get-go, and never let up, sprinting frenetically to the finish line at a speed so blistering your head spins as you race along for the ride.  An old-school action movie, perhaps, or a thriller that scarcely pauses to catch its breath . . .

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 masterpiece, Rear Window, based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich titled “It Had to Be Murder,” is definitely not such a story.

rearwindowpromo

 

From the opening sequence where we view, along with main character L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies (played by James Stewart), the apartment complex across the street, the film is decidedly unrushed.

apartment

 

It takes its time, the plot unfolding slowly, allowing the viewer to ease into the story line and characters, the cinematic equivalent of a leisurely stroll along a country lane.  This is not to suggest that Rear Window is dull.  Far from it.  It is widely regarded as one of Hitchcock’s most accomplished movies, and has long been a personal favorite of mine.

The story centers around Jefferies, confined to a wheelchair, his left leg broken and in a cast, suffered while photographing an auto race accident.

wheelchair

 

He has been whiling away the time in his small New York City apartment, with little to do except spy on his neighbors across the way.  For a man of action like Jefferies, whose job routinely takes him to some of the world’s most remote and dangerous locales, the inactivity is like a slow, torturous death sentence.

We meet his neighbors, right along with him.  The entire film is shown from Jefferies’ perspective.  When we see his neighbors, we see only what he sees.  We are never actually in their apartments.  We, like Jefferies, are spying, voyeurs, peering in through back windows at the private rituals and arguments and parties of the Other.

spy

 

From this point of view, we meet a dancer whom Jefferies calls Miss Torso, who is continually prancing around her room in a bikini and other various states of undress.  She practices her dance steps in full view of Jefferies, who eagerly takes in the view.

misstorso

 

We meet a single woman Jefferies nicknames Miss Lonelyheart.  One evening we spy her entertaining an imaginary guest at her table, before breaking down in tears.  We, like Jefferies, question whether or not we should be witnessing such private acts.  But we do, and we are.

misslonelyhearts

 

And we also meet a bickering married couple, the Thorwalds.  The husband is a salesman, the wife is unwell, spending her days in bed.  Jefferies can’t help but notice their quarrels.  Their flat is just across from his.

murderwife

 

While me meet the neighbors, we also enter into Jefferies’ personal life.  He has problems of his own, apart from the broken leg.  His girlfriend, Lisa Fremont (played by Grace Kelly), a wealthy socialite, wants to get married.

stewartandkelly

 

Jefferies tells her it wouldn’t be a good idea.  He doesn’t want to settle into a comfortable city life taking photos at her fashion events.  And he doesn’t believe she is cut out to be the wife of a traveling photographer who spends much of his time in rustic, back-country places.  He tells her it’s not the life for her–neither of them would be happy in the other’s world.

One night, after an argument with Lisa about this very issue, Jefferies spies the Thorwalds in the apartment across the way having another of their fights.  Later, after midnight, there is a scream and a crash and a single cry of, “Don’t!” and then all is quiet.  Jefferies observes Thorwald leave the apartment three times during the night, each time carrying his salesman’s case.  Something seems amiss.  As the days pass, Jefferies, collecting various clues as he continues to keep an ever-present eye on Thorwald, believes that the salesman has murdered his wife.

murderer

 

But even here, the film takes its time.  We never leave Jefferies’ apartment.  We learn what he learns, at the same pace he does.   The movie continues to build in momentum, slowly, allowing us to taste every nuance, pause at every twist and turn of the plot.  Along the way, we further delve into the lives of Miss Torso and Miss Lonelyheart, along with other neighbors.  The time of year, midsummer, with an oppressive heat wave, only serves to emphasize the unhurried pace of the plot.  Everyone is hot, the air is thick with humidity, muggy like soup.  Nothing will be rushed.

There is a method to the madness, of course.  Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense, is taking his viewers by the hand, and leading them, gently, softly, up a winding mountain back road.  We have to solve the mystery right along with the protagonist, and while we do, we get to know him, his personality, his insecurities, his faults, and his idiosyncracies, right along with those of his neighbors’.  It is a rich, layered story, strangely comfortable in spite of the potential horror taking place across the way.  It makes us want to settle in, stay for a while, and lose ourselves in its world.

spying

 

It also makes the ending, a confrontation between Thorwald and Jefferies, stand out in bold relief to the rest of the film.  Everything has been leading up to this–the crash of the cymbals after the slow, melodic dance.  The bold, brutal display of violence after two hours of merely hinting at it.  It is a climax earnestly won, an eruption of suspense perfectly timed.

ending

 

It is also a very good reminder.

Sometimes, when in the process of writing a novel, or even a shorter work, it is easy to fall into the finishing-too-quickly trap.  If you’re in chapter 21, and you have big plans for chapter 22, the natural temptation is to cut that last scene in chapter 21 just a little short, the eagerness, anticipation, and excitement over the big chapter to come simply too much to resist.  I know I fell into this mind-set at times during the writing of The Eye-Dancers.

While every chapter in a novel is important, there are, naturally, certain chapters that stand out as truly crucial, the linchpins upon which everything else rests.  When I was nearing a “linchpin” chapter, I often had to remind myself to slow down, and give the present chapter the attention it deserved.  If I rushed the current chapter, then the impact of the “big” chapter that followed would be minimized due to the faults and sloppiness of the chapter that preceded it.  In such moments, when the temptation to rush was at its strongest, I would think of old L.B. Jefferies in his wheelchair, watching, waiting, slow, slow . . . and I would take a deep breath, and carry on, careful not to race through.

takeyourtime

 

And while the major chapters, the big fight scenes, the incredible time warps all serve as the “wow”scenes in any story, it is the little chapters, the quiet sequences that often move us and help us to relate to the story and the characters who populate it.  A short conversation between friends.  An inside joke between a husband and wife.  A moment of introspection as your main character relaxes on the sofa, watching an old rerun and sipping tea.  Scenes like this add nuance, substance, and texture to the story.  They are the peeks behind the curtain, the herbs and spices that bring out the rich, hearty flavor beneath the surface.  They are the hidden gems at the bottom of the pile, the rare finds at the back of the store.

And they offer us, in their shy, softspoken manner, The Rear Window point of view.

pov

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

71 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Charles Yallowitz
    Oct 04, 2013 @ 18:13:47

    Love that movie and the lessons one can learn from it. Great advice.

    Reply

  2. merrildsmith
    Oct 04, 2013 @ 18:16:11

    Rear Window is one of my favorite movies. My husband and I revisited it about a year ago–and I had forgotten just how good it is. I’m glad you like it, too!

    Reply

  3. barbaramonier
    Oct 04, 2013 @ 18:30:56

    One of the aspects of “old” movies that I especially love is that the pacing is so dramatically different — and generally much slower, less frenetic — than what we have become more and more accustomed to in American films/movies. Many foreign directors continue to embrace the idea that slower pacing can ultimately be far more dramatic, suspenseful and satisfying that a breakneck roller-coaster ride.

    Great job as always!

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Oct 07, 2013 @ 19:13:07

      Thanks, Barbara! And you’re right about old movies. When I watch them, the difference in pacing from what we see today is striking. Generally, I prefer the old, classic approach.:)

      Reply

  4. jjspina
    Oct 04, 2013 @ 23:36:32

    I love this movie and all Hitchcock’s other films too, He was the master of suspense. Thank you for sharing it and reminding me of what a wonderful story it is! Best wishes, Mike!

    Reply

  5. sonya solomonovich
    Oct 05, 2013 @ 00:38:36

    Now I definitely want to see Rear Window. Jimmy Stuart is such an amazing actor. Have you seen Harvey, another movie he was in? It’s one of my all-time favorites.

    Reply

  6. laurie27wsmith
    Oct 05, 2013 @ 08:06:17

    It makes me wonder at what seems to be gospel for authors, that every book must start with a bang. This movie shows that a story can still draw you in without a huge, showcased beginning. Just a thought.
    Laurie.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Oct 07, 2013 @ 19:19:25

      This is very true. I think beginning with a bang is still probably the best approach as a general rule, but “Rear Window” (along with plenty of Hitchcock movies!) definitely proves you can start slow and build up the momentum as you go. “The Shining” does that too–it starts slow and builds . . . That approach can definitely work.

      Reply

      • laurie27wsmith
        Oct 07, 2013 @ 19:48:45

        My belief is that people today are so used to instant gratification in all things, that if it’s not laid out immediately then it’s not worth it. *rant over* It’s a fine line, that first chapter has to engross though, ahh the perils of writing. 🙂

  7. jenniferkmarsh
    Oct 05, 2013 @ 12:47:50

    Simplicity is a wonderful thing, and, more often than, very precious!

    Reply

  8. Francina
    Oct 05, 2013 @ 19:46:15

    great article on Alfred Hitchcock’s movie , he was the master of suspense. thank you for sharing.

    Reply

  9. eemoxam
    Oct 05, 2013 @ 23:15:36

    A timely reminder for me, thanks! Now I have to see this movie…

    Reply

  10. Sheryl Wright Stinchcum
    Oct 06, 2013 @ 00:43:17

    Love that film!!!

    Reply

  11. readingwithrhythm
    Oct 06, 2013 @ 15:57:13

    Nice post! This is the Mom Person’s very favorite movie – we watch it frequently. Some good writing advice, as always!

    Reply

  12. Minister Gertrude Ferguson - Founder & CEO- Enough Tribulations
    Oct 06, 2013 @ 16:10:06

    Coherent writings with visuals capture an audience. This is great. Thanks for sharing. Have a bless one!

    Reply

  13. Jilanne Hoffmann
    Oct 06, 2013 @ 20:23:03

    Great advice, Mike. Let things unfold at the right pace. Keep the reader dangling in suspense. I’ve never seen this movie, but now you’ve got me wanting to rent it on Netflix.

    Reply

  14. stormy1812
    Oct 07, 2013 @ 03:36:21

    It’s obvious I need to watch more Hitchcock lol. It is so easy to get impatient but it’s always worth the wait. I finally got impatient and stayed up late to finish “The Eye-Dancers” the other night haha. Very good read! Part of the impatience was I was enthralled and couldn’t wait to see how it ended. I really enjoyed that story and I think for me, it was amazing to see how I could see parts of myself in the characters – very identifiable which made it more believable. Glad I found this site and your book! 🙂

    Reply

  15. Sherri
    Oct 07, 2013 @ 12:08:42

    Love that – ‘The Rear Window point of view’. This is one of my all time favourites films too, I love all things Hitchcock and this was one of his best I thought. I love how you bring in the ‘behind the scenes’ way of writing, to add texture and the ‘meat’ to the plot. That watching and waiting too, not rushing, not charging ahead with our writing, and how this ties in with this great film. Thanks again Mike for another wonderful post 🙂

    Reply

  16. Fashion Mayann
    Oct 07, 2013 @ 12:46:15

    Another truly impressive post which highlights the fact that patience is such a valuable thing (and also reminds me of my adolescent passion for James Stewart, when I used to watch a movie with him, each Sunday night, on TV : what an elegant actor he was !).

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Oct 07, 2013 @ 19:26:55

      I couldn’t agree more! James Stewart is one of my very favorite actors. He is brilliant, and he plays his role to perfection in “Rear Window.” Always great hearing from you!

      Reply

  17. Charlene Woodley
    Oct 07, 2013 @ 17:58:37

    Rear Window is one of my all time faves…love Hitchcock! Thanks for the excellent points – very helpful!

    Reply

  18. Sam Han
    Oct 08, 2013 @ 17:16:01

    I used to watch Alfred Hitcock’s in the 70s. Black and White and always late night. They don;t screen them now, no reruns. I like Frozen Death of you’d saw it. Love the plots in all his stories but I have forgotten them clean. Perhaps I could buy some if they were on sale. Your point in this article truly pinpoints my impatience and lack of follow through. Something I really have to work hard on if I want to blog successfully. But then again, patience and following through with the required linchpin is essential in daily living too. Thanks for the great article. Brought back so much good memories as well as lesson 🙂

    Reply

  19. Angela Grant
    Oct 08, 2013 @ 18:08:49

    Hi Mike, Loved Alfred Hitchcock. Your story sucked me and I am glad I stayed until the end. :).
    -Angela

    Reply

  20. insearchofitall
    Oct 09, 2013 @ 01:13:28

    You are right about everything you just said. The hurried ending of stories I have read drove me crazy. They had time to to come up with a better timed ending. It’s like on the last page they say “well this is what happened”. I remember “Rear Window” and liked the slow, steady build of suspense. I’m old so it still appeals to me. 🙂 Thanks for bringing it to our attention again. Very beneficial information.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Oct 09, 2013 @ 18:01:01

      Thanks so much! You are right about endings and stories being too rushed. Sadly, today, rushing seems pretty commonplace in movies/TV and storytelling. It’s the same thing with Twilight Zones. Even though the episodes are short, they still take their time. The scenes don’t jump from one to another. Things were certainly different back then, and I am a big fan of old movies and old TV. Thanks for your comments! Always great to hear from you!

      Reply

  21. likeitiz
    Oct 09, 2013 @ 06:22:41

    Good one, Mike. Enjoyed reading your analysis. I’ve forgotten about this classic. Maybe I can find it on Netflix or Amazon Prime.

    Reply

  22. melanie
    Oct 09, 2013 @ 07:44:06

    excellent review… I rewatch Hitch’s movies every time they’re on TV and I’m never fed-up with them… 🙂

    sunny greetings from Toulouse, France & my very best… cheers! 🙂 Mélanie

    Reply

  23. Elizabeth Melton Parsons
    Oct 09, 2013 @ 16:00:13

    One of my favorite movies. 🙂

    Reply

  24. Kavita Joshi
    Oct 09, 2013 @ 23:39:55

    windows are famous for some reason in movies 🙂

    Reply

  25. honey
    Oct 10, 2013 @ 02:09:37

    To Hitchcock, the master of suspense.

    Reply

  26. reocochran
    Oct 11, 2013 @ 19:53:15

    I agree with the summarization of comparing the Rear Window movie script to our writing a post, essay or novel. Taking your time, giving the details but allowing the story to unfold as it should, no rushing or over embellishing, either. Fine work, good message today!

    Reply

  27. jjspina
    Oct 14, 2013 @ 21:32:36

    Thank you for all your support, Mike, and all the likes on my blog! I am a fan of yours too!

    Reply

  28. teagan geneviene
    Oct 15, 2013 @ 17:40:52

    A very good lesson, Mike! You brought that out quit well. Very few writers, directors — story tellers of any kind have the patience to truly build a story in the way of Rear Window. Great example.

    Reply

  29. beebeesworld
    Oct 15, 2013 @ 17:41:34

    That sure brought back memories..beebeesworld

    Reply

  30. FreeRangeCow
    Oct 15, 2013 @ 21:40:04

    Great minds, I think? Last week I just re-watched this classic and I think I enjoyed it even more the third time around. Some movies just stick with you, no matter WHAT the year they were made!!!

    Reply

  31. alittlebirdtweets
    Oct 21, 2013 @ 16:24:39

    I love Rear Window – when I first saw it I thought it was different to any other film I’d seen – the filming, the characters, action. You’re so right…sometimes the most powerful part of film is the quiet part – the psychological aspect. A great read 🙂

    Reply

  32. Brook
    Oct 21, 2013 @ 18:27:10

    Hi Mike…this is an excellent review. I like the way you point out that this traveling photographer is a “man of action” forced to sit still by his broken leg. But then he really starts traveling, inside his own and other people’s lives. He’s now forced to be “involved.” Excellent piece Mike. (And *thank you* for the “like today).

    Reply

  33. Joanna Fay
    Oct 29, 2013 @ 07:08:00

    Good post…both about endings and beginnings. There is a fashion at the moment, certainly in SF and Fantasy, for high tension, explosive or high-speed openings. What can suffer from that tactic is that there is little room for character development front-up. Rear Window is an excellent example of a completely different approach.

    Reply

    • The Eye-Dancers
      Oct 29, 2013 @ 19:16:24

      It certainly is–and it really works! I guess a writer needs to be careful, though. Rear Window may be the exception, and not the rule, for a slow-moving story . . . Great hearing from you, Joanna!

      Reply

  34. 24/7 in France
    Oct 30, 2013 @ 07:19:21

    Thanks for visiting my blog and hope all is going well!

    Reply

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