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September 1996, Week 3


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Donald Larsson <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 13 Sep 1996 12:35:59 -0600
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Pip Chodorov observes:
"We could continue Dubois' ideas by saying that this little double-play sets
up Hitchcock's rules for the game to follow. The photographer will be looking
for clues to be shown to him; so he must learn to deduce from what he sees.
In the first sequence, we could say the audience is warned to look carefully,
and that every object we see has meaning. The second shot is the "answer",
confirming our guesses to the first shot (the "question" - "what's going
And the third shot is a point of view of the courtyard. We scan the buildings
across, the gardens below, apparently following Jeff's gaze, but when we pull
back into his apartment we find him asleep with the back of his head facing
out the window. So who's doing the looking here, anyway?"
But the game goes even further, for the opening scenes establish *two* (and
only two) patterns of "looking."  One is the "objective" view provided by
the camera, and signaled by its moves out the window and panning the courtyard
in continuous movmements.  The second (as in the scenes of Jeff on the phone
with his editor) is given through point-of-view editing: Jeff (or Lisa) looks
out the window, followed by a presumably eyeline match of what he (or she)
is seeing.
As Pip points out, Jeff *interprets* what he sees (as does Lisa) and offers
more or less running commentaries on it, leading to the accusation that
Thorwald has committed murder.  But interpretations vary.  Lisa, the Thelma
Ritter character, and the detective are all at least skeptical at first on
the basis of what they presume to be "normal" behavior and, paradoxically,
the ambuity of human actions.
The continuous, "objective" shots (which never occur when Jeff is looking out
the window)_offer information that the audience must interpret for itself.
The real trick comes when Jeff is sleeping on the night of the murder and
misses what the objective camera shows to us: Thorwald leaving the apartment
with a woman.  If Jeff had seen that, he probably would have had no further
suspicions.  As it is, the visual information seems to back the explanation
offered by the detective, that Mrs. T is visiting relatives.
Thus, the film undercuts what might be presumed.  Can we trust what we see?
N0--despite the opening shot of Jeff's room that tells us all about him.
Can one interpret people's behavior on the basis of our own biases?  Yes--
the ambiguity of human actions is defeated by the certainty of probable
behavior.  The turning point for Lisa is when she declares that no woman would
leave without her wedding ring.
And finally, are "rear window ethics" (i.e., voyeurism) wrong?  No--because
Jeff is finally justified in deducing and tracing the murder despite the
skepticism and moral qualms of those about him.
(And that's not saying anything about the role of the soundtrack in this
highly interesting film!)
Don Larsson, Mankato State U (MN)
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