LAB: JORDAN BECK

DESCRIPTION: Rear Window

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Cinemetrics lab is the latest addition to our site, and is still work in progress. When finished, the lab is envisaged to offer students of film history a range of analytical tools that will help them dissect, visualize and compare film-related data. We started with a large-scale comparative chart which looks a little like a star map. It is a scattergraph each dot on which represents a film available on our database. Select areas by dragging a rectangle to zoom in and see better different areas of film history. Once you have found your film on this map you will see how it relates to thousands of other films on the x-axis of time (past 111 years of film history) and on the y-axis of average shot lengths. What we intend to do is to add more tools to the lab in order to augment its statistics apparatus and enhance its means of data visualizations.

Year/ASL chart. Note the Log10 scale on the y-axis. It allows us to see all films in the very widely spread high ASL range.

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This lab's films are shown in yellow.
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List of films in this lab:

Rear Window: (7) ASL 9.1
Rear Window: (7) ASL 8.8
Rear Window: (7) ASL 3.7
Rear Window: (7) ASL 8.5

Notes.

 

I will do my best to address the issues brought up by Yuri plus any additional issues that arise along the way.
 
1) Regarding my measurement of Rear Window in advanced mode, it is designed to separate the omniscient point-of-view (POV) shots, first person POV shots, and first person POV shots through extensions. The results indicate that out of 786 shots, 561 are omniscient, 189 are first person, 31 are through extensions, and 5 are undefined due to inaccurate shot marking. 
  • Omniscient shots are those that do not originate from a source within the diegesis. 
  • I use Edward Branigan’s definition of the POV shot as criteria for determining first person POV: “The POV shot is a shot in which the camera assumes the position of a subject in order to show us what the subject sees” (Branigan 103). 
  • Shots through extensions are necessarily first person POV.  Extensions include: binoculars, a telephoto lens, and a slide viewer.

With the exception of several first person POV shots (Jeff looking at Lisa just before she kisses him/looking at the lobster dinner/looking at his wristwatch; Doyle looking at Lisa's shadow on the ceiling/looking at her overnight case), the only shots that can be ascribed with certainty to a specific character are shots through extensions.  Given existing inquiry re: Rear Window (see: Mulvey 1975, and Orpen 2003), it might be productive to use this measurement to question whether or not Jeff "narrates" the film; to question the dominance of the male gaze.

2)  Thinking in terms of point-of-view narrative, there are some similarities and differences between the point-of-view narrative of the film and that of the short story on which the film is based.  It is illuminating to compare the final, climactic confrontation between Jeff and Thorwald in both versions.

In the cinematic text, the final confrontation begins with a phone call. Jeff thinks that Doyle is calling and launches into a conversation about Thorwald. Based on the receiver’s silence, Jeff realizes that Doyle is not on the other end. This keeps with the short story. However, on-screen, Jeff is quicker to realize the threat. A click on the receiver and the line goes dead. From this point on, the camera remains in the apartment until, during the struggle, Jeff sees Lisa and Doyle appear outside Thorwald’s door. He screams to get their attention and attracts the attention of the rest of the courtyard residents. The camera jumps outside the confines of Jeff’s apartment showing the various perspectives of all the residents of the courtyard. As stated in his interview with Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock believed in image size as a means of emphasizing drama, or as Truffaut puts it, “not giving an overall view of the setting until a scene reaches its dramatic peak” (Truffaut 162). Out of 91 shots, 67 originate within the apartment and 24 originate in the courtyard.  Shot number 55, the first shot in the sequence to originate outside the apartment, seems to confirm the concept of occluding an overall view of the setting until a scene reaches its dramatic peak:
 
*Note that the first green line (exterior shot) comes at the "peak" of the trendline.
 
In this respect, the cinematic and literary texts diverge.  Most of the time, the literary point-of-view is restricted to Jeff's apartment.  A short description of the literary sequence from the point at which Jeff gets "the phone call" is in order.  On the page, Jeff does not realize Thorwald’s presence on the phone, and when his ear picks up the sound of the downstairs, inner door, he assumes it to be Sam, his houseman, returning for some forgotten item. Unlike the cinematic narrative, it is not until Thorwald is through the downstairs door that Jeff’s mind unravels the riddle of the rental agent’s and Thorwald’s synchronized movement. When Jeff calls Boyne, the phone line gets cut from inside the apartment.  Instead of opening up the space (Hitchcock even reveals an "overall view" of Jeff's apartment before going into the courtyard) the literary text zooms in for close-ups.  As Thorwald approaches, Jeff sinks down in his chair, propping up a bust of  “Rousseau or Montesquieu” on his shoulder, and wrapping a blanket around its neck and ears in the hopes of passing it off as his head. The ruse works and, after clandestinely entering Jeff’s room, Thorwald fires a shot at the bust, exploding it into chunks. After both men hear the sound of more footsteps coming from the downstairs door, Thorwald rushes to the window to evaluate potential escape routes and Jeff throws himself into a crevice between the chair and the wall, an even more confined space than the chair.  The literary text does change its POV by moving outside of the apartment, but this happens after the drama peaks (Thorwald shoots) and the tension begins to subside (Jeff survives and Thorwald leaves the apartment):
 
“He flung over the sill on one arm and dropped into the yard. Two-story drop. He made it because he missed the cement, landed on the sod-strip in the middle. I jacked myself up over the chair and flung myself bodily forward at the window, nearly hitting it chin first.”
 
Jeff could not have seen the drop or the landing since he was still wedged between the chair and the wall when Thorwald "flung [himself] over the sill."  I believe this is the only POV shift in the whole of the short story.  Another possible explanation is that Jeff theorizes this "shot."  Stuck in a chair, Jeff has had more than enough time to scrutinize the yard.  As such, he knows the layout like an architect knows a blueprint.  He knows that it is a two-story drop from his window to the ground.  From there he makes some logical, but perhaps untenable, assumptions.  "[Thorwald] made it because he missed the cement."  Logical.  A body hitting cement from a second story window probably will not get up and run, but without "seeing it" the statement is conjecture.  Ask Jeff for proof and he might say, "[He] landed on the sod-strip in the middle."  Perhaps he would even say, "There is no other possible explanation!"  But because Jeff flings himself toward the window after Thorwald jumps (and, in theory, lands) there is no way Jeff could have seen that action take place.  He does not arrive at the necessary vantage point in time.  
 
What if this reading is too chronological?  It is possible that the events as ordered on the page belie the timeline.  Is not there another way to interpret these words that would put Jeff at the window before, or simultaneous with, Thorwald's landing?  Absent any textual indicators of simultaneity, is simultaneity out of the question?
 
There is a different way to think about the timeline of these events.  It would take a matter of seconds for Thorwald to fling over the sill and drop into the yard.  Depending on his physicality, perhaps it would only take Jeff a few seconds to get to the window in time to see the landing.  If Jeff remains motionless while Thorwald flees then it is doubtful he would get to the window in time to see Thorwald jump.  However, if the two men start moving simultaneously, then the possibility exists.  With a limited recall of the text, I will stop here and resume when I've had a chance to peruse the text..
 
3) The non-POV shots discussed by Truffaut and Hitchcock:
 
The so-called “non-POV” shots which the Truffaut/Hitchcock chapter addresses are those shots in the courtyard. As Truffaut writes, “By simply taking the camera outside Stewart’s apartment, the whole scene becomes entirely objective” (Truffaut 162).  In other words, every shot from within the apartment is mediated through Jeff’s POV.  The results of my measurement challenge the idea that the only objective shots are those that take place outside the apartment or, at least, incite some thinking about the definition of objectivity.
 
Inherent in Truffaut’s statement is the idea that Rear Window has only two points of view: Jeff’s and the camera’s (omniscient). But shots from multiple points of view exist in Rear Window (e.g. from Lisa’s, Doyle’s, and Stella’s). Whenever there are two or more people present in Jeff’s apartment (most often Lisa and Jeff) it is difficult to ascribe character-specific POV to the reverse shots of the courtyard. For scenes with multiple viewers, the only time accurate ascription is possible is when the characters look through extensions (e.g. binoculars, a telephoto lens, and a slide-viewer).  Is a shot-reverse shot sufficient evidence to make a claim for dominant POV?  
 
If Jeff, Lisa and Stella are all watching Thorwald from Jeff's apartment and Hitchcock cuts together a close-up of Jeff with a wide shot of the courtyard, then the viewer ascribes POV to Jeff, despite the presence of the other two characters.  Such an assumption might be axiomatic, though.  If there are other characters looking in the same direction, at the same object or action, then the reverse shot delineates POV.  Imagine Jeff looking out the window in a wheelchair versus Lisa looking out the window at his side.  The two reverse shots, those aimed at the courtyard or Thorwald's window, should demonstrate slightly different compositions.  Someone looking out the window from a wheelchair would have a different perspective than someone standing.  Consider the scene in which Jeff, Lisa, and Stella send Thorwald an ominous note:
 
 *Beige = Jeff's POV; Green = Lisa's POV; White = Stella's POV; Yellow = ObjectiveI started measuring immediately after the scene involving the dog's death, in the middle of the fade. In this sequence, shots 12, 14, 18, and 20, all marked in yellow, are of the courtyard from the apartment.  All other yellow shots are of the apartment (that is, the camera shoots into the apartment), except for shot 1, which depicts Jeff, Lisa, and Stella in the foreground and the courtyard in the background.  Shot 7 was mistakenly attributed to Jeff; it should have been marked yellow (objective).
 
 
4) POV changes within the duration of a shot.
 
My measurement of the scene in which Jeff, Lisa, and Stella watch Thorwald before sending him a message contains an example of POV change within the duration of a shot. First, when Jeff hands the slide viewer to Lisa and she holds it up to her eye, the camera assumes her perspective and “looks through” the slide viewer. However, when Lisa lowers the viewer, the camera remains static and resumes an omniscient perspective. That is, it resumes the shot of the courtyard that serves as a reverse shot for Jeff, Lisa, and Stella. The cycle of raising and lowering the slide viewer repeats once before Hitchcock cuts to a shot of Jeff, Lisa, and Stella looking out the window. And the POV shift occurs once more when Stella looks through the slide viewer. Judging by shot scale and composition, the courtyard does not change between Jeff’s, Lisa’s, or Stella’s POV (see: Figures 1, 1a, and 1b) even though Jeff’s POV is ostensibly different from Lisa’s and Stella’s since he is sitting in a wheelchair and they are standing.
 
 
1. A shot of the courtyard that might be ascribed to Jeff based on its relation to the preceding shot: a medium close-up of Jeff noticing something unusual about Thorwald’s garden.
 
 
 
1a. The view of the courtyard as seen after Lisa lowers the slide viewer from her eye.
 
 
 
1b. The view of the courtyard as seen after Stella lowers the slide viewer from her eye.
 
When Lisa and Stella each look through the slide viewer, the consequent shot is unequivocally their discrete POV. However, as soon as they lower the slide viewer and look at the courtyard in “real time,” then the camera resumes a neutral POV. To revise and extend one of Tonia Modleski’s arguments regarding Rear Window: “Those critics who emphasize the film’s [ascription of POV to specific or multiple characters are neglecting the fact that it increasingly adheres to neutral (omniscient) POV]” (Modleski 1988).

**More information and responses coming re: multiplicity of points of view, the problem of POV, Orpen on Rear Window and POV, and cutting rate**