Is this social media before there was social media? My choice today of “Rear Window” is inspired by several factors but mostly by having my parents visit me for the week. The first factor is obviously that it’s one of Hitchcock’s classics – I would argue it’s in his top five. The second is that it features the dream team of Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly. The third is that Stewart is stuck in his apartment with a broken leg (and I currently have a fractured one – it may be another 3 weeks before it’s fully healed). And the fourth is that, on so many levels this film is a work of genius.
Stewart spends his day watching the people across his courtyard. Their windows are designed like miniature cinema screens – even aping the old cinema aspect ratio and the new cinemascope ratio – see how clever this is? Stewart makes up his own stories about them all. And this being Hitchcock, one of the stories may involve a murder. It’s kinda based on both an H.G. Wells short story and a Cornell Woolrich story (which might have been stolen from – or inspired by – Wells).
Luckily, fractured leg or not, I currently work from home and I sit in my window watching the reasonably busy road outside my flat while I work. Like Stewart there are some people I see almost daily that I make up stories about. My Dad is enjoying doing the same while he’s visiting. It’s amazing how easily you can get sucked in to what other people’s lives might be like just by watching them walk down your street – especially the ones you see regularly.
For example, there’s a woman who goes out in shorts and a vest top every day at around 7am. Even in the middle of winter. She returns about 9am. My neighbour and I think she goes for a daily morning swim in the Hampstead Heath ponds, no matter if it’s almost freezing outside. But we don’t know.
There’s an older guy who seems to be a Hare Krishna and, even when it’s hot, wears his robes, a jacket and woollen hat, and always carries full shopping bags. There’s a couple who take their disabled daughter out in her chair most days. An old guy who goes for a run every morning and then walks home. A very old woman and her carer who go for very, very slow walks. And, in contrast, a teenage girl who walks faster than I’ve ever seen anyone walk. The list goes on.
And, of course, I can add myself to that list, because there’s probably someone across the road who sees me sitting in my window, watching all these people, and has their story about what my life might be like. That’s why this film is so brilliant, because you can be the voyeur but you are probably also the subject of someone else’s voyeurism.
The film plays deeply into that idea. And on a cinematic level you are obviously watching a drama featuring people that you don’t know including, on a meta level, the actors in the movie. As with everyone, even your closest friends, you only get glimpses of their life and you make your own assumptions – you always fill in the gaps to make up your own story about them. And that’s a lot of fun.