Five participants successfully finished five-week long Film Criticism workshop mentored by Jonathan Rosenbaum: Daria Blažević, Matija Krstičević, Nikola Radić, Višnja Vukašinović and Vida Zelić. The films they wrote about were Last Year at Marienbad (1961) directed by Alain Resnais, Rio Bravo (1959) directed by Howard Hawks, Enchanted Desna (1964) directed by Yuliya Solntseva, and Rear Window (1954) by Alfred Hitchcock.
Jonathan wrote his impressions about the workshop on his website:
Even though not all of the seven students, located in different parts of Serbia and Croatia, made it to the end of the workshop – which was conducted via emails shared by everyone before our 105-minute “in-person” gathering — I told the five who made it through that they were the brightest reviewers I’ve ever been lucky enough to teach, even though the English they wrote in was their second language.
22nd of March 2021
Rear Window Review (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)
However trailblazing, culturally and historically significant they might be, some classics simply don’t age well. The following decades make them seem outdated, naive, weaken their relevance. In contrast, there are those visionary works that continue to exude modernity, gaining pertinence and acquiring new meanings with time. Rear Window belongs to the latter category, thanks not only to Hitchcock’s mastery of suspense, but to his flair for anticipation as well.
To start with the obvious: the film’s premises resonate surprisingly well with our time. Rear Window takes place on a steamy summer in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. After a work accident, the photographer Jeff (James Stewart) finds himself confined in his apartment with one leg in a cast. The adventurous globetrotter, now immobile and bored, starts observing through his window the shows of his neighbors’ everyday lives. Fast forward to more than a half century later. It is 2020 and a deadly pandemic has paralyzed the world. Millions of people are confined to their homes, powerlessly watching the pandemic unfold, scrolling through their social media and killing time by streaming films and binge-watching TV shows.
Rear Window is an allegory of spectatorship, notably in the movie theaters, where filmgoers can indulge in watching other people’s lives while sitting safely in the dark. But let’s not forget that this murder mystery was made at the time that saw television sets become the UK’s and the USA’s favorite household item. One didn’t even have to go to the cinema, as the need to watch others could be easily satisfied from one’s comfy couch. Voyeurism was domesticated. It became an everyday matter, raising ethical issues that Hitchcock would become interested in.
As Jean Douchet astutely observed in a 1960 issue of Cahiers du Cinéma: “[The Hitchcockian spectator] is a voyeur. What he sees on the screen (that is what Stewart sees in the building across the courtyard) is his own projection.” It should be added that Jeff, i.e. the Hitchcockian spectator, is as curious about his own projection as he is afraid of it. Jeff cannot help watching others but he fears being seen. He cannot endure the gaze. Observed from a safe distance, his neighbor Lars Thorwald is a character, a piece in a life-sized Cluedo game. Once this physical and/or symbolic distance is abolished, Jeff loses his self-assurance. He is afraid when Thorwald looks in his direction and can barely watch the confrontation of Lisa (Grace Kelly) with the potential wife-murderer. Jeff’s projection has turned against him. It will culminate with Thorwald finally entering Jeff’s apartment. The character of the voyeur’s favorite show has left the frame and has invaded his safe space. It has come too close, waking up “the spectator who has been drugged by spectacular images”, as Guy Debord put it in The Society of the Spectacle. Jeff the spectator can only blind Thorwald with his camera’s flashgun.
“Passive identification with the spectacle supplants genuine activity”, wrote Debord in 1960, foreseeing today’s Instagram and TikTok era. In Rear Window, even Lisa and the witty nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter), who refuse at first to take part in Jeff’s perverse venture, finally succumb to the voyeuristic temptation. They get carried away by the spectacle. They join all of us, the race of Peeping Toms. In 2021, we are still peeping.
Rad Kino kluba Split podržavaju Hrvatski audiovizualni centar, Društvo hrvatskih filmskih redatelja, Grad Split i Zaklada Kultura nova. Voditeljica programa je Sunčica Fradelić.