Through the Looking Glass, Down the Rabbit Hole: REAR WINDOW

by John S. 

On the surface, Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch could not seem to be more different. The former’s oeuvre is largely highlighted by matter-of-fact, propulsively-linear movement. The latter’s is mainly characterized by surreal tangents and dreamy abstractions that can be downright enigmatic. However, look deeper and you will find solid common ground. Hitchcock and Lynch’s films often tackle themes of deceptive facades and the dangers of peeking beneath to discover the truth. These dovetailing themes are never more evident than in Rear Window and Blue Velvet, two movies that may approach the old chestnut of “nothing is what it seems” from different avenues, but end up being classic cinematic kindred spirits.

The Scarecrow Project’s cross-cut theme for August is “Lost Highways,” in honor of the recent revival of Twin Peaks and all things Lynchian. However, the cross-cut also pays tribute to those films and artists that influenced Lynch, including Hitchcock. After all, it’s common knowledge that Lynch’s favorite Hitch films are Rear Window and Vertigo. Both movies haunt his classic, Blue Velvet. A hypnotic, moody thriller about a small-town dude (Kyle MacLachlan) who finds a severed ear and becomes obsessed with a mysterious singer (Isabella Rossellini) who may hold the key to the mystery, Blue Velvet at first seems to share more DNA with Hitch’s similarly-surreal classic Vertigo. To wit, both involve a male protagonist investigating an elusive, enigmatic femme who may be his undoing.

However, take a step back and get a better look – and Rear Window’s curves and twists take shape. Like Rear Window, Blue Velvet ultimately deals with the darkness hiding behind pristine surfaces. Whereas Velvet peels back the layers of the Norman Rockwell-like small town the story unfolds in, Window dissects the microcosmic universe of an NYC apartment block and its various residents – all seen through the eyes of bored photojournalist L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart). Recovering from a broken leg, Jeffries has taken to spying on his neighbors to pass the time. At first, it’s all amusing and quirky as he witnesses half-told stories whose blanks he fills in. It slowly turns sinister, though, when he begins to suspect one of his neighbors (Raymond Burr) may have killed his wife.

Jeffries’ cool, elegant girlfriend, Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly), and his earthy, no-nonsense nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter), are both skeptical of his theory. However, they too are soon drawn into the watching web when they witness increasingly strange behavior from the potential wife-killer across the way. Indeed, one of Rear Window’s major strengths that doesn’t always get mentioned is how deep Stella and Lisa themselves eventually fall down the Voyeur Rabbit Hole – so much so that both are willing to risk their lives to find out more, especially Lisa. This magnetic sense of alluring menace, like moths to the flame, surfaces in Blue Velvet, too, as MacLachlan’s hapless hero (named Jeffrey, by the way) and Rossellini’s femme fatale enact their own dance of danger.

Rear Window is, in this fan’s opinion, Alfred Hitchcock’s best film and one of the best thrillers ever made. Proof of its classic effectiveness can be measured by how often its main theme (surveillance not only uncovering sinister secrets beneath respectable exteriors, but also bewitching the watcher in the process) appears  in all sorts of flicks ranging from teen-friendly flicks like Disturbia and Fright Night, to popular mainstream hits like What Lies Beneath, Basic Instinct, Deja Vu, and The Girl On The Train, to interesting misfires like Sliver and Jade, to cult hits like Body Double and Sisters, to foreign output like The Bird with the Crystal Plumage and Do You Like Hitchcock?, and even to comedies like Stakeout and Addicted to Love.

Of all the films influenced by Rear Window, however, the most intriguing one remains to be Blue Velvet. What a difference David Lynch can make. Re-watching both these films, I couldn’t help but think that Sliver’s provocative tagline (“You Like To Watch – Don’t You?) would have been much better-suited for either Rear Window or Blue Velvet, because in these films Hitchcock and Lynch make it crystal-clear the answer will always be… yes.


John S. is a Scarecrow volunteer who loves James Bond, Jason Bourne, Italian Gialli, Argento, Hitchcock, Ridley Scott, Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, Theo James in anything, Steve Zahn in everything, Halloween (movie & holiday), South Park (cartoon & neighborhood), and Scarecrow Video – not necessarily in that order.

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