Category Archives: Rear Window

Voyeurism in Rear Window

“I’ll bet you that nine out of ten people, if they see a woman across the courtyard undressing for bed, or even a man puttering around in his room, will stay and look; no one turns away and says, “It’s none of my business.” They could pull down their blinds, but they never do; they stand there and look out.” – Alfred Hitchcock

hitchcock glimpse into worls

Rear Window is what Hitchcock likes to call a suspense thriller. He specialized in this genre as he believed that drama is life with the dull bits left out. This movie is a great example of a voyeuristic film that emphasizes the pleasure of looking. We get to see the view through the eyes of Jeffries the voyeur which is important in the plot of the movie as we saw. By definition, voyeurism is the practice of obtaining sexual gratification by looking at sexual objects or acts, especially secretively. Many other movies focus on the subject of looking and voyeurism, the motivation behind it and the consequences that come with it. Two of the more popular movies (that I have actually seen) with this focal point are American Beauty and Psycho.


The movie American Beauty uses Ricky Fitts as a voyeuristic character. The audience is often given the opportunity to look through his camera to give us the viewpoint of Ricky, the voyeur in this movie. He sees beauty in the little things in life, such as a plastic bag drifting away. The way in which Ricky sees life is as if he appreciates all of the beautiful things in life that others might not acknowledge since they are caught up with fitting in with the suburban stereotype-much like Jane, his love interest. He finds the beauty of Jane and films her through his window which shows his sense of voyeurism.

The movie "American Beauty", directed by Sam Mendes and written by Alan Ball. Seen here, Wes Bentley as Ricky Fitts. Initial theatrical wide release October 1, 1999. Screen capture. © 1999 DreamWorks. Credit: © 1999 DreamWorks / Flickr / Courtesy Pikturz. Image intended only for use to help promote the film, in an editorial, non-commercial context.

The movie “American Beauty”, directed by Sam Mendes and written by Alan Ball. Seen here, Wes Bentley as Ricky Fitts. Initial theatrical wide release October 1, 1999. Screen capture. © 1999 DreamWorks. Credit: © 1999 DreamWorks / Flickr / Courtesy Pikturz.
Image intended only for use to help promote the film, in an editorial, non-commercial context.

Psycho is another example of Hitchcock using a voyeuristic character, Norman Bates, to show the ‘pleasure of looking’. This movie is unique because it actually affirms the fact that us as viewers are merely voyeurs as well. Specifically, one example of this is shown in the photograph below when we are given the image through the eyes of Norman. By making Norman’s gaze and the gaze of the audience the same, Hitchcock gives the chilling realization that we as viewers and voyeurs could possibly be given some of the blame for Marion’s death.
** The A&E TV show, Bates Motel is based off of Psycho. (10/10 I would indeed recommend.)

psycho voyeur

RUN DMC said it best, “Tinted windows don’t mean nothin’, they know who’s inside.” So readers beware, you never know if there is a voyeur in your life. You also never know the terror (or beauty) that could be hidden in the simplicity of the everyday.

Check out this list of 10 voyeuristic films!

10 Films About Voyeurism

Lisa’s Wardrobe

While watching the film, one of the details that I had a difficult time analyzing was Lisa’s wardrobe. In one of the first scenes of the movie, Jeff quite bluntly states that he is looking for a woman who is more passionate about traveling and living a spontaneous lifestyle than the newest style of dress. He even points fun at Lisa directly by mentioning the fact that she will never wear the same dress twice. I was almost certain that the next time we saw Lisa, she would be completely transformed — either in less ornate attire or even in pants — in order to win Jeff’s heart. However, when Lisa returns to the apartment, she is again wearing a very formal dress and sophisticated jewelry. In fact, we watch her undergo four additional wardrobe changes, each of which consists of a dress and her signature pearls. It is not until the very last scene where she is seen wearing flat shoes, jeans, and a borderline masculine shirt. I couldn’t help but ask, why did Lisa wait until after she had secured Jeff’s heart to mold her wardrobe to his liking?


Perhaps Lisa was trying to prove a point to Jeff that she can still maintain her femininity and continue to act on her zeal for fashion while exhibiting qualities associated with his idea of the ideal woman. She quickly realizes that she can connect with Jeff by collaborating with him to solve the murder case, but noticeably arrives at his apartment in a new dress each day. She also makes it point to show him her small suitcase to outline that she is capable of picking up everything and taking off on the fly (vital aspect of a wom0770-500x281an in Jeff’s eyes), but inside the suitcase is elaborate lingerie – an item that Jeff does not seem particularly excited about. Lisa’s continuous juxtaposing of qualities that appeal to Jeff and portrayal of her true personality may represent her unwillingness to completely succumb to Jeff’s wishes and her sense of hope that Jeff can still love her as she is.

I began searching the Internet and reading through various blogs to see if others have taken note of the perplexing nature of Lisa’s wardrobe. To my surprise, most of the content I found was from women praising Lisa’s clothing, noting how relevant her style is to popular fashion during that time period. However one comment on a student’s blog at Vanderbilt did spark my interest; rather than focusing on the extravagant nature of Lisa’s attire, this blogger instead found significance in the numbe8f6c8c3457a95c0ecefe15f8abff32b0r of times Lisa changes her outfit. Jeff is seen only wearing a mundane set of pajamas throughout the movie, which contrasts greatly with Lisa’s frequent wardrobe changes. The blogger goes on to explain that this may represent a woman’s tendency to consistently change herself to satisfy Jeff. While this is a valid notion, I still think this point would have been more clearly emphasized if Lisa’s fashion choices gradually became less formal and feminine as the film goes on.


I was able to find significance in one of Lisa’s outfits: the flower-printed sundress. Lisa wears this dress when she spontaneously decides to climb up Mr. Throwald’s fire-escape and enter his house, which also serves as the moment in which Jeff officially falls for her seemingly adventurous personality. I did find it odd that Lisa is wearing a brightly printed sundress during the evening hours, which leads me to believe this dress was chosen for a specific reason. After pondering this notion, I realized that when Jeff first points out the set of flowers that have “grown shorter” with time in the courtyard, he mentions that he is referring to the yellow flowers at the end of the garden — the same color as the flowers on Lisa’s dress. When Jeff first makes the realization about the flowers, Jeff is fairly convinced of his theory (that Mr. Thorwald killed the dog because something may be buried in the flowerbed), and he anticipates that this is the clue that will ultimately solve the murder mystery. Unfortunately, Mrs. Thorwald’s body is not found in the flowerbed, and this theory is officially put to rest. Just as Jeff believed that the dyingRear-Blog-8 yellow flowers was the clue he had been searching for, when Lisa is wearing the yellow-flowered dress he believes that she is the woman he had been searching for. However, the yellow flowers were deceiving and did not provide him with the answers he was hoping for, which mirrors Lisa’s deceiving personality and the idea that she is not truly the type of woman Jeff is searching for.

The final scene in the movie shows Lisa in flat shoes, jeans, a button-up shirt, and no jewelry — a sharp contrast to her previous attire. Because the murder has been solved, Lisa may feel that she no longer can connect with Jeff by sharing a passion for solving the mystery, so she finally resorts to changing her appearance to fit his mold of the ideal woman and ensure their relationship lasts. We even see her switch her attention from a book about the Himalayas to a fashion magazine when Jeff is sleeping, which shows that despite her change in wardrobe, she is still unable to let go of her passions and express her true self in front of Jeff.


I realize that some of my analysis may be a bit of a stretch or due to purely coincidental occurrences, but I do believe Hitchcock attempted to express some sort of theme through Lisa’s attire. I would be interested to hear others’ thoughts on this topic.



Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies

Grace Kelly. Kim Novak. Eva Marie Saint. Janet Leigh. Doris Day. Vera Miles. Tippi Hendren.

These classic Hollywood actresses have more in common than just leading roles in Alfred Hitchcock’s films, they also all have blonde hair and similar facial structures. Though an average film-goer would chalk up these similarities as coincidence- no one loves inside Hollywood stories more than Hollywood. In fact, Hitch’s peculiar (almost vulgar) treatment of actresses was widely, but quietly discussed in the world of America cinema. Hitchcock himself even added fuel to the fire, declaring that “actors are cattle” in an interview. However it can be seen that Hitchcock had a particular breed of cattle he liked to cast in his films, with it all beginning with  Grace Kelly.

Dial M for Murder (1954) was Hitchcock’s and Kelly’s first collaboration, with Rear Window and To Catch a Thief (their second and third collaborations) both being released the year after. According to the rumor mill, Hitchcock was fascinated by Kelly, with Kelly’s retirement from acting in 1956 bringing absolute devastation to the boisterous director. In fact, many speculate that Kelly’s departure caused a void in Hitchcock’s direction that he tried to fill with as many Grace Kelly look-a-like actresses he could find. Unfortunately, his glorification of Kelly did not transfer to the other actresses he directed.

The first rumor of maltreatment comes from the perspective of Janet Leigh, who starred as Marion Crane in the film Psycho. The myth involves the famous shower scene, insinuating that in order to get an authentic reaction from Leigh, Hitchcock himself came at her with the knife. Additionally, it was rumored that Hitchcock drilled holes in the wall of Leigh’s dressing room to watch her, with both instances being dramatized in the 2012 film Hitchcock.The second myth that is popular involves Tippi Hendren and the pivotal scene in The Birds, when the birds attack her character. The Girl (an HBO film about Hitchcock and Hendren) depicts a “behind the scenes” look, with Hendren cowering in a corner as Hitchcock instructed the handlers to release live birds at the actress, over the course of five, extensive days (it was only suppose to be a day shoot). Though these myths are warped by speculation and artistic subjectivity of film-depicted events, this two specific anecdotes raise eyebrows of who Hitchcock actually was as an individual.

Perhaps the crowning achievement of Hitchcock’s career is his ability to emerge moviegoers into his own state of mind as the director, particularly through voyeurism. Throughout most of Hitchcock’s famous filmography, we as the audience are constantly viewing the film through the subjective mind of the director (Hitchcock, a male) or the protagonist (typically also a male). Therefore, we are viewing the female leads in the film also through the eyes of a man, with this casting a haunting perspective when we take a step back and realizes what Hitchcock is trying to say about the sexes through his lens. This is most noticeable in Jimmy Stewart’s characters in both Rear Window and Vertigo, but is also noticeable in the character of Norman Bates in Psycho. In all three of the films, these men are physically unable to interact with the women they are interested in, so they watch them instead and fantasize how in their perfect world, these women would act. However, when faced with reality of the women in their lives (like Lisa is to Jeff or Marion is to Norman after she questions his mother) they cannot accept these women until they conform to their fantasy, so they either abuse them or on an extreme end, murder them.

If these male protagonists’ view of women is shaped by the subjective view of Hitchcock’s camera, it makes one wonder if their gaze is anyway analogous to Hitchcock’s own view of his leading ladies, which is startling if you believe the urban legends of Hollywood.

For more information, view this article here

Mystery vs. Suspense

I don’t consider myself a film expert by any means, so Hitchcock’s explanation of what separates the mystery and suspense genres was a bit perplexing to me. The example he gave was of the woman who “died” and came back into the man’s life, making him fall in love with her again. Hitchcock argues that a mystery would leave the audience wondering whether she was the same woman–that is, it would withhold that information from us. In contrast, a suspense film would tell us that she is the same woman, thus building dramatic irony and heightening our expectations for when the hero eventually finds out the truth.

This all makes sense, but by that logic wouldn’t “Rear Window” be a mystery? After all, we are not told outright that Thorwald is a murderer. We get the same clues that Jeff gets and are even privy to a couple of shots that Jeff cannot see, but none of these confirm anything. Up until the very end, we are left wondering just like in a mystery. By contrast, something like Sherlock Holmes would typically be considered a mystery. But in modern adaptations (we’ll take BBC’s “Sherlock” for example), we see Sherlock alive after he has jumped off of a building, while Dr. Watson mourns for him. In this way, the story builds suspense for when John finally finds out Sherlock has lived. Of course, Sherlock’s fall isn’t one of his cases in the show, and there is plenty of mystery involved with those. Which brings me to my next point.

Obviously a film or TV series doesn’t have to be strictly one genre or another. There’s plenty of mystery in suspense films and plenty of suspense in mysteries, but what I am wondering is if these genres must necessarily go together. They seem so similar that the line between them gets blurred to me, and I find it hard to imagine one without the other. After all, even if we don’t know who the criminal is, isn’t there some suspense when they finally pull off the mask? Even if we know the truth about a situation, isn’t there some mystery as to what the motives are and how everything will play out?

Rear Window and Space

The cinematography in Rear Window was great, and showed restraint in never giving a perspective too far removed from Jeff’s apartment and often obscuring action. This movie is all about spaces, and we are largely within Jeff’s space throughout the film. The long opening shot establishes two main spaces; there is the outside world in the courtyard where everyone else lives in their own apartment, and there is the space behind Jeff, his own apartment with his furniture, photography, and people he knows. The former space is external composed of others outside his life while the latter is internal, comprised of his own thoughts, personality, and experiences. These two spaces are separated by the window.

The framing of each shot emphasizes the separation of these spaces.

We don’t simply peer into any apartment. Most of the shot is the outside wall, which separates what we are supposed to see and what we are not. Having the action take place in only 25% of the screen makes the apartments feel very closed in from our perspective. This composition accentuates the privacy of the apartment space and makes the audience conscious that it is violating that person’s privacy.

The Thorwalds’ apartment is even more interesting because Lars’s space is separated from Emma’s. The rooms they are currently in during this shot are the rooms that identify them most, that they spend most time in. The walls are even different colors to hint at their lack of cohesion. The apartments are not only physical places that people live in, but also represent their internal state. Using a room that a character lives in to mirror their own mental state is a common technique in filmmaking (e.g. Barton Fink), and it is done pretty effectively here. The brick wall that separates the two spaces is also used strategically to obscure important action in the future to enhance the suspense. Hitchcock shows himself to be a rather resourceful filmmaker here.

The visuals are only one aspect that define spaces in this movie though. Different sounds become identified with different spaces as well throughout the film. From Miss Torso’s apartment we hear the music that she dances to while from the Songwriter’s apartment we hear the progression of his composition. And we hear a scream at night that we desperately try to identify to a space.

The same way we do not get shots from inside an apartment, we do not get sound from it either. As Dr. Jordan discussed in class, all of the sound in this movie is diegetic, and further it is only what can be heard from the space of Jeff’s apartment. So during the climax of the film instead of hearing a dramatic soundtrack to elevate the suspense, we hear jazz from the Songwriter’s apartment, which is very dissonant with the action of Lisa being attacked by Thorwald. This sound, like the framing, accentuates the privacy of the apartments we are peering into. The fact that we cannot hear what goes on in other people’s spaces demonstrates that we should not be seeing what goes on in them either.

Rear Window: Violating Women One Gaze at a Time

Earlier this week, my Facebook feed was peppered with the announcement of Jessica Chastain’s launching of an all-female production company. This news stemmed from the recent Oscar and Grammy award seasons, which brought with them a slew of criticisms of the largely white male pool of nominees coming from an industry dominated by white males. (Take a good look at the graph in the Forbes article hyperlinked above; these shocking statistics are from 2015.) Feminists often cite the portrayal of women in films and media as a source of ongoing sexism and violence against women. If you’re wondering what that means, you don’t have to look any further than Rear Window.

I walked out of Carnegie this past Monday a little dazed and deeply unsettled by Hitchcock’s movie. The acclaimed director’s portrayal of women violated every feminist stance possible. The women in Rear Window are obsessed with marriage and how they are viewed by men. They enjoy being victims of violence and abuse. They exist only to please the perverted men they love.

rear_window_ver3_xlgHitchcock directed the movie to exclusively show the male gaze. There are only three perspectives, and all three are male: Jeff, Hitchcock’s subjective camera, and Thorwald briefly at the final climax. As the audience, we see what these men see, and despite our own race, gender, sexuality, etc., we view the movie and the action as white men. (And as most directors, Hitchcock tries to get us to empathize with his (white, male, hetero) protagonists.) This choice of direction automatically objectifies women; we must divine their thoughts and intentions through the lens of the male gaze, which frequently stops at their physical appearance. Miss Torso’s plotline until the very last scene can be summed up as “eye candy,” and even when we see her partner come through the door, her greatest ambitions are shown to be domestic bliss. Lisa’s first scene and last scene, despite her “character development,” are identical: Massive shots and slow pans of Grace Kelly not speaking and looking gorgeous, or in other words, even more eye candy. Women are to be seen and sexualized, but not heard.

So what happens when the male gaze lingers past the curves and starts to look into the lives of these women? The answer is three victims of abuse.

The first is Lisa, who suffers emotional abuse in trying to domesticate Jeff. In her first scene, Lisa is, by 1950’s standards, the perfect woman. Gorgeous, fashionable, and ready to take care of her man. But her man still doesn’t want her, and that limits Lisa’s character development to pleasing Jeff. In the final scene, Hitchcock further infantilizes her by showing she has not really developed at all; she puts down her book and picks up a fashion magazine with a smile.

The second is Miss Lonelyheart, also seeking domestic bliss. She practices her date etiquette, prims and trims her appearance, and then puts her plan into action by hanging out at a cafe. Her efforts are met with an attempted rape, which Lisa and Jeff watch uncomfortably, neither of them reaching for a phone to call the police. Jeff has just finished asking Doyle to look into a murder he didn’t actually see happen, yet when he witnesses a crime about to happen before his very eyes, his instinct is to watch and say nothing. This incident foreshadows a rape and murder that happened ten years after the release of Rear Window, the famous Kitty Genovese case that launched research by psychologists into the Bystander Effect. Between 37 and 38 witnesses, all neighbors in her Queens apartment block, saw or heard Kitty being stabbed and raped, but not one of them intervened or called the police.

rear_window_ringThe third woman is Mrs. Thorwald. She is sick and nags her husband, and as a result, is murdered by him. One thing that struck me is that Hitchcock, in his attempt to make his murderer seem like a normal fellow, only gives those two reasons for Thorwald’s decision to kill his wife (that she is sick and nags him). Again, this furthers the argument that women are meant to be seen and sexualized (and should therefore beautiful, not sickly) and not heard. Hitchcock further supports this by showing Lisa sneaking Mrs. Thorwald’s wedding ring on her own finger, symbolically marrying a wife-murderer. Lisa is the perfect female character to be shown doing this, having already taken Jeff’s verbal abuse to heart and acting upon it.

The movie ends with domestic justice: Thorwald is sent to jail, Miss Lonelyheart finds a companion in the struggling musician, and Lisa metaphorically lets her hair down for Jeff by wearing jeans and attempting to read an adventure book. Both of the surviving women have reached their peak happiness in the prospect of marriage, and both are seen in their male partner’s apartment, conforming to the man’s life instead of their own. With the final scene, Hitchcock imprisons the women in their endless quest to please men, with no indication of further ambitions or further capacities.

I realize now that my word count is obscene, but for any of you interested in the feminist and psychoanalytical implications of Rear Window and other Hitchcock films, here is a great essay by Laura Mulvey from 1973 that was published as an article in Screen in 1975.

A Different Rear Window

I will admit, Rear Window was not my favorite movie.  Many of the moral problems facing the characters resolved in a manner which left me wanting, and the whole film seemed to promote the attitude of “the end justifies the means.”  Throughout, Hitchcock admonishes viewers for their voyeuristic tendencies and at times, pushes the idea that watching other peoples’ private lives with binoculars may not be the most upstanding past time, but in the end, a murderer is caught because of Jeff’s voyeurism, suggesting it wasn’t so bad afterall.  Additionally, the relationship between Lisa and Jeff definitely said that women should change who they are in order to get the guy.  So, expanding on my ideas in class discussion today, here is Kaley Chicoine’s Alternate Ending to Rear Window:

The movie stays exactly the same up until the police take Lisa off to jail.  Jeff, distraught, is unable to pay her bail.  He continues to watch Thorwald, who is now aware of Jeff’s gaze.  This constant surveillance starts to make Thorwald edgy, and he keeps looking back at Jeff, shrugging his shoulders and going so far as to call Jeff and ask what he wants.  After nearly a full night of this, Thorwald shows up at Jeff’s door.  He explains that he and his wife are on bad terms, and that she went away to stay with a friend in the country after proposing a divorce.  They don’t really love each other anymore, anyway.  Jeff will hear none of it and remains silent.  Thorwald gets upset, continuing to explain his actions and repeatedly asking what Jeff wants.  Jeff eventually speaks, denouncing everything Thorwald has said and accusing him of murdering his wife.  Thorwald snaps and throws Jeff out of the window.  The movie ends with Jeff dead, Lisa with a criminal record, and Thorwald arrested for Jeff’s murder.

This version of Rear Window deals with my earlier complaints.  Lisa ends up in trouble because she tried to change who she was just to suit Jeff.  Voyeurism is definitely not rewarded.  More so, Thorwald becomes a much more interesting character.  He ends up guilty of the crime Jeff imposed upon him, but only because Jeff relentlessly pushes him toward it.  And, there is an unexpected twist at the end that keeps things interesting.  The movie would end with a very clear message: don’t try to understand people’s lives from the outside.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Cameos

So in Rear Window, I noticed something kind of cool: Alfred Hitchcock was in the apartment of the songwriter kind of early in the movie. It looked like he was doing something with the clock in the apartment, but that’s not important. Take a look at the picture below.

That’s Hitchcock on a train right next to Carey Grant, aka C. K. Dexter Haven (we seem to see a lot of the same faces in this class). Apparently, it was a whole thing that Hitchcock would appear in his own movies. In 39 of his major films, he makes an appearance. Once he moved to Hollywood, he appeared in every movie he made. The funny part is that he had to adjust his cameos because of how much people loved him. Apparently, people spent so much time looking for him that no one paid attention to the movie. As a result, Hitchcock made it so that he always appeared in the first thirty minutes of the movie specifically so that people could see him and then go back to watching the movie.

There are two modern occurrences I could compare this to. The first is obviously Stan Lee. He created or helped create many of the comic book characters that have been absolutely dominating the box office for the last few years. This video has all of them as of 2014, so there are definitely several more since then. It’s pretty cool, and everyone always goes nuts at his appearances, and makes sure to look for them specifically. They’re not hidden enough that you wouldn’t see them just watching the movie though, so they aren’t distracting.

The part that is distracting is the thing that really made me want to write this article: The Psych Pineapples. In every single episode of the (underrated) show Psych, there is a pineapple hidden somewhere. Sometimes it’s just on a shelf in the back and you can see it obviously. Sometimes it’s a keychain on someone’s keys that are only seen for a second in a security footage the investigators have found. It’s crazy, and unlike the Seinfeld Superman, the pineapple is in every episode. So, Hitchcock, you may think you’re distracting your audiences, but there are episodes of Psych where I don’t even know what the plot was, but I remember where the pineapple is.