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Rear Window. Paramount (courtesy Kobal)

and also in the language of film, its limitations and processes. As you watch this remarkable thriller, be aware of how its techniques are channelling your reactions, encouraging you to become an observer of your own observing. Hitchcock is like Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio - your own mini-conscience whispering about the complexities that surround the relationship between the seer and the seen.

All the difficult questions are embodied in the troubled psyche of the film's main character. 'Jeff' (James Stewart) is physically and symbolically marooned, a man whose plaster cast prevents him from leaving his wheelchair and his room, and whose anxieties about Lisa (Grace Kelly) are blocking the development of their relationship. The main issue is the impact he suspects her fashion-plate femininity may have on his roustabout lad's life; he fears being trapped by the grace of Grace, yet at the same time he is strongly attracted to her. This 'Gordian knot' is only one aspect of the film's complex attitude towards women and is worthy of an analysis in its own right. What matters here, though, is that Jeff is haunted by conflicting emotions, and the characters he observes from his rear window are like ghosts wandering in the landscape of his inner dilemma.

'Miss Lonely-Hearts', for instance, hints at his fear of isolation; the composer and his unfinished song dramatise a possible spiritual sterility. Above all, Thorwald (Raymond Burr), the man who may have murdered his invalid wife, is a shadow-Jeff, caught in the kind of emotional prison that our protagonist/ photographer most dreads; the salesman displays reactions that mirror what the photographer's own might be. Viewed in this light, Jeff's determination to establish his neighbour's guilt can be seen as an attempt to purge himself of the fearful, even aggressive, feelings he harbours towards the young woman. To hunt down Thorwald is somehow to hunt down, and hence to absolve, himself.

Motives for watching, then, are contaminated in this movie, and by implication so are ours. The world through the window is like a film, a collection of fragmented sights, sounds and gestures; the only elements binding them together are our own moral perception and instinct for meaning, both of which can be questionable, to say the least. In Jeff's case, he reads his 'film' as a clear case of murder because he wants to see a brutal crime. His act of watching is an act of self-projection, of looking falsely outward rather than truly inward.

To complicate matters further, the nature of Jeff's visual evidence is unreliable, as the director's camera continually reminds us. Throughout this film, Hitchcock denies us the full scope of cinema, particularly its magic-carpet ability to traverse time and space and present multiple points of view. Instead, he chains us firmly to Jeff's wheelchair and to his restricted field of vision, making us aware that movie language, like any language, has its limits and is also susceptible to the constructions human beings place upon it. The camera lies, because people want it to support their lies. A 'peeping Tom', as the sneakiness of the name suggests, is a form of moral criminal.

Rear Window is such a gripping movie because it continually tests us with these issues of truth, appearance and participation. Unfortunately, when it enters the area of crime, the chrome starts to peep through the gold plate. Although Jeff's dramatic confrontation with Thorwald clearly demonstrates the murderer's vulnerability and the photographer's qualification for the Nasty Neighbour of the Year Award, the salesman is still established as a genuine murderer; his guilt guides the story into a relatively safe harbour where some of the deeper waters are avoided. By contrast, if he had turned out to be innocent, and Jeff and Co. had been left culpable among the ruins, then the film would have been nastier; it would have shown more strongly how wrong seeing is an aspect of wrong being and how both can actively lead to wrongdoing.

Still, these criticisms are a matter of personal judgement: watch, thrill and make up your own mind. Rear Window is indisputably a key text; it maps out a central movie territory that directors are frequently keen to explore. Long before the closing credits have rolled, your personal Jiminy Cricket is crooning a revised version of his famous song from Pinocchio (Luske and Sharpsteen, USA, 1940): 'When you get in trouble and you don't know right from wrong - spy on someone.'

Some Things to Watch out for and Consider

• Think about the representation of women in this film. Ask yourself:

In the sequence that introduces Grace Kelly, how do we know there is something threatening in her beauty? What are the images and motifs that tell us there is a fundamental incompatibility between Jeff and Lisa? 4 How do the roles of 'Miss Torso' and 'Miss Lonely-Hearts' contribute to this film's construction of women?

• Think about the camera's point of view. Ask yourself:

What specific device does Hitchcock use to tie our interpretation of events to that of the wheelchair-bound protagonist?

What is the significance of the sequence in which the audience sees an event that Jeff misses because he is asleep?

* When does the camera break away from Jeff's point of view and why is this significant?

Writing Thorwald's statement to the police, revealing the events that led up to the murder of his wife. Telling the story from the point of view of the policeman, played by Wendell Corey (as Hitchcock could well have done).

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