I’ll freely admit I’m coming to this game way late. I’ve been aware of Alfred Hitchcock for years—who hasn’t?—but
I’ve never sat down to watch one of his movies. Even his most famous, Psycho, I’ve only seen bits and pieces of.
Well, that long streak has finally broken. I checked Rear Window out from the library and just watched it.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. It seems so many times I’ve finally given in and read a book or watched a movie that was supposed to be all that and a bag of chips and come away disappointed. Maybe my tastes aren’t refined enough, or maybe they just don’t run in the direction of many of the classics. I don’t like musicals, including The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and God knows I’ve tried watching plenty of them. There’s just something wrong with people spontaneously bursting out into song that rubs me wrong. How often does that happen in real life? My suspension of disbelief goes down the drain the first time it happens. The whole time they’re singing, I’m thinking, How do you explain this person being able to sing a song that rhymes and has a consistent meter—and all of it is improv?
It just doesn’t work for me.
So when I sat down to Rear Window—it being a classic and all—I wasn’t sure what I’d get. I was sorely afraid I’d be disappointed yet again, even with Jimmy Stewart in it.
I liked it. But it took watching the documentary to fully appreciate it. Why? Because Hitchcock is so good at telling us the story visually that I didn’t even consciously realize what he was doing.
To acquaint us with the main character, Hitchcock shows us Jimmy Stewart asleep in a chair. The camera slowly pans down and shows us it’s a wheelchair, then his cast with the words Here lie the broken bones of LB Jefferies on it, then his mangled camera, then some of the pictures he’s taken. Without a word of exposition, we know everything we need to know about Stewart’s character. Later, we get a phone call with his editor where the accident itself is explained, but Hitchcock, in the space of about a minute tops, has told us all we need to know to get on with the story.
Of course, as writers, we can’t do that. Not in that method, anyway. We don’t have those simple visual tricks to fall back on. We have to find a way to do it with words. I’m still working on a theory of how to do that, exactly, but thanks to this movie, I’ve started rethinking that sort of thing.
You read article after article telling you to be spare with back story, and some of them even have examples. But I don’t think I’ve ever been shown how to do it so graphically before. And, according to the extras, Hitchcock was a master at it, with Rear Window being one of the movies that showcases all his talents in one sitting.
So, if you’re like me and you’re late to the game, check out at least this movie. I know I’m going to be watching more
Hitchcock in the future. I have a feeling that, as a storyteller myself, I’ve got a lot to learn from him.