Saturday, January 14, 2023

Second Reel Adventures!

It was such a great, fun night last night at R.W. Norton Art Gallery for our second Reel Adventures! Much more to come but keep an eye out for our third one happening some time in the next 3-4 months.

Here's my talk on Rear Window:

Thank you all for being here tonight. I know many of you but for those of you who I don’t know, my name is Jeffrey Goodman and even though I directed a number of films, I’m here first and foremost tonight as a cinephile. Or as someone you can say has probably spent too much time watching and thinking about film.

I really appreciate everyone being here and I so appreciate Lewis and Ruth Norton and Emily Feazel who have been committed and tirelessly working to make this idea of a film club happen since it first came up.

Okay so I have about 5-10 minutes worth of words I’d like to share about tonight’s film. Hopefully it will give you a slightly deeper appreciation for what you’ve seen. And just before I start, I’m curious how many of you had never seen Rear Window prior to the announcement of tonight’s event?

Wow that’s great. Okay so here we go.

Alfred Hitchcock’s life nearly runs perfectly parallel with the birth of the medium of film. Hitchcock was born in 1899. Film in 1895.

Hitchcock began working in the era of silent film. His first ten films were silents and then he spent the rest of his career, all the way to 1976, making talkies.

I only mention all of this because I think it is critical to understanding Hitchcock’s relationship to the medium of film. I would argue, and we find examples in his career time and time again, that Hitchcock was not only interested in using the medium of film to tell stories. He was interested in finding stories that helped define what the medium could do, and more specifically, what film could do that no other medium or artform could replicate.

So Rear Window.

Start reading interviews with Alfred Hitchcock and at some point I promise you you’ll hear him use the expression “pure cinema”. For example, in an interview with filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, Hitchcock says, “Subjective treatment, putting the audience in the mind of the character is, to me the purest form of the cinema. I suppose Rear Window is the best example of it…close-up of a man; what he sees; his reaction to it. And that can’t be done in any other medium – can’t be done in the theatre, can’t be done in the novel.”

I want to spend the rest of my talk around this idea of pure cinema and Hitchcock’s exploration of it throughout Rear Window. Hitchcock is fixated on the same three shot sequence throughout Rear Window that in his opinion is something no other medium can do.

The first shot is a shot of Jimmy Stewart looking.
The second shot is a shot of what Jimmy Stewart sees.
The third shot is Jimmy Stewart reacting to what he sees.

Let’s take a look at an example.


And you find this same three-shot formula throughout Rear Window - a man looks, he sees, he responds, he looks, we see what he sees and we feel what he feels.

Hitchcock believed this was pure cinema or purely cinematic or only something the medium of film could do. I want to show you one other clip where Hitchcock talks about this three-shot sequence, or The Kuleshov Effect as it is formally called. I’ll save a deeper explanation of The Kuleshov Effect for another talk.


Another concept Hitchcock would often talk about is the idea that cinema is and should be a visual medium. Hitchcock felt that as a filmmaker, whenever possible, you should show rather than tell the audience your story. Again, like the three-shot sequence we talked about that Hitchcock felt was pure cinema, Hitchcock viewed visual storytelling and using the camera rather than dialogue to tell the story as a method that was more pure and differentiated cinema from theater or any other artform.

There are numerous examples throughout Rear Window of Hitchcock’s mastery as a visual storyteller whether it’s the opening shot of Jefferies where in one shot, no dialogue, we learn where we are, who the principal character is, all about his work, and even how it caused his accident. Or even the quick scene we saw earlier where, without any dialogue, we understand the neighboring couple is newly married.

In speaking about movies that relied more on dialogue, Hitchcock would describe them as lazy or as merely photographs of people talking that bear no relation to the art of the cinema. Hitchcock believed the coming of sound in film was in some ways a backward step and he wanted to avoid relying too much on it as a storyteller. Perhaps one of the reasons Hitchcock was such a master at visual storytelling and was able to “write” with the camera was because he got his start in silent cinema. In fact, some people say he always remained a silent filmmaker.

I’ll end with one last thought.

As many of you know, I was a French major in college and first discovered my love for film while living in France. And ever since, I have probably had more of a French perspective on film than an American one. Any way, I’m a big fan of the way the French film critics look at film and as I was preparing for tonight I came across the following view by one of the French film critics I admire.

He said you could even look at Rear Window as structured in a way that speaks about the medium of film. He explained that the first part of the film, when Jefferies is simply watching his neighbors, represents a spectator. The second part of the film, as Jefferies becomes more involved thinking and talking about his neighbors, represents a projector – someone projecting his thoughts on who his neighbors are and what they are doing. And then the final part of the film represents a director as Jefferies gets involved in solving the Thorwald case and directing Lisa, Stella and Doyle’s respective efforts.

So it is for all the reasons above that I think Rear Window has great merit and represents one of the great examples of a film that gives you something that only the movies can give you. And it is also why I thought it was a great choice for our second Reel Adventures.

Thank you.

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