Rear Window ★★★★★

Can't believe it's been 7+ years since I watched this; it remains just about as perfect as cinema gets for me. But it was also a strikingly new experience this time -- first time on Blu-ray, which made a surprisingly big difference in detail level even on my smallish TV, and the first time in which I was fully conscious of what a fucking cad James Stewart plays, not that this is much different from Stewart's roles in other Hitchcock films; as you see with Cary Grant, he was really the only director who routinely subjected stars to such characterizations. Of course he's not a violent obsessive as in Vertigo or an abusive husband as in The Man Who Knew Too Much or a hypocritical nihilist as in Rope, but Jeff's defiant avoidance of commitment to his extremely caring and independent-minded girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly, never better) does paint him as some sort of a sociopath even if you don't find Lisa ravishing, but how can you not? The extent to which the film undercuts his smug editorializing about marriage and various other matters with constant barbs from not just Lisa but insurance nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter, also never better, and probably never given remotely this much to do), coupled with Hitchcock and John Michael Hayes' curiosity about the everyday lives of (unusually affluent in this case) fairly ordinary people makes this an intriguing snapshot of a moment just before gender attitudes experienced a paradigm shift. You can see how the characters' genuine wrestling, good and bad faith, with cuddly domesticity versus independence would have had major resonance at the time and is still well-illustrated enough to seem realistic. Maybe I'm just not thinking hard enough but I don't believe the fundamentals of traditional romantic relationships came under the microscope in Hollywood films ordinarily to this extent, at least in this era. (You can go back to the '30s and find something like Dodsworth or Holiday, I reckon, but Hitchcock's own filmography demonstrates how much more broadly conservative this period was than that one.) Any modern audience member would agree with Jeff that Lisa's too good for him, but I like to think that the last scene is winking at us that this moment of relative peace portends further and more earth-shaking complication, for these two and for the whole world.

But of course, much as Hayes loved his career-marriage conflicts (something that eventually exasperated Hitchcock) and as well integrated as this one is, you come here for the sheer imaginative joy of the suspense scenes, and the entire film is still a miracle of blocking, design and pacing. I don't see how you could possibly improve on it, and truthfully, I think that's why it's the last time Hitchcock returned to the "single set" well that had fascinated him almost since his arrival in the States. It was my first time seeing the movie since I saw Playtime and I wonder how much it influenced that film, with the same phenomenon -- never before so apparent to me -- of multiple dramas playing out in the frame at once, a screen filled to the brim with exquisite detail. But nothing here is so underrated as Franz Waxman's diegetic score, which along with the sound design makes the known artificiality of the set feel beside the point -- in no sense do you ever doubt that what you're seeing and hearing is a palpable experience. You know exactly how it feels to be in that sweltering apartment. I thought that was the most extraordinary thing when I was 14 or 15 and I don't think I was wrong.

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