2/23/11

GUEST POST- Hitch on the Hump: Pax Romano Visits Mr. Jefferies' Neighborhood

Hey folks. Back again with another great Guest Post for Hitch on the Hump. Today we have a blogger I consider to be quite inspirational. Not only does Pax's site, Billy Loves Stu, take one of the best and most innovative looks at horror, but it's also wickedly written with a razor sharp wit and tons of style. There's some sites I keep up with sporadically, some I catch up week to week, and a few special ones that I have to check out every day. Billy Loves Stu falls into that final category, and that's why I am very proud to have Pax Romano on board for today's Hitch on the Hump. So let's join him as he talks Rear Window and moves into.....

Mr. Jefferies' Neighborhood
You don't know the meaning of the word 'neighbor.' Neighbors like each other, speak to each other, care if anybody lives or dies, but none of you do. 

Looking beyond the obvious about what makes Rear Window such a terrific film; something else is present, a sort of lesson in social behaviors.  As L.B. Jefferies (James Stewart) is wheelchair bound due to a broken leg and a veritable prisoner in his tiny Greenwich Village apartment, he grows bored with the mundane and becomes something of a peeping Tom.  In a way, who could blame him?  There was no Internet, cable TV, DVD's or E books back in 1954, and television programs ran only for a few hours in the late afternoon and evenings.  Happily, Mr. Jefferies has three huge windows that looked out on the court yard of his apartment building, and right into, the windows (and lives) of his colorful neighbors – what better way for a homebound soul to pass his time than to become a voyeur ?

Much like Facebook and Twitter today offer many of us the chance to view the quotidian events of strangers,  Jefferies's windows allowed him to do the same, and with almost exclusive anonymity.  No need to “friend” anyone in this instance; in a way, it was if he had a raw feed into the lives of the people who lived around him.

Of course, since he did not know any of these people, he gave some of them nicknames, other's he just acknowledged without granting them a nom de stranger:

· Miss Torso : The curvaceous, blond woman with a seemingly never ending parade of gentleman callers.
· Miss Lonelyhearts : The middle aged woman who is unlucky in love and has a taste for booze and pills.
· The Composer who seems to be having a difficult time coming up with his next piece.
· The Couple with the dog.
· Miss Hearing Aid: a hard of hearing older woman who spends a lot of time napping in the courtyard.
· The Sculptress who creates pop-art-like statuary.
· The Newlywed Couple.
· The Traveling Salesman and his invalid wife (later revealed as Mr. And Mrs. Lars Thorwald).

For a time, Jefferies observes these folks the way an anthropologist might study a family of gorillas; from a very healthy distance, and with no real interaction.  In fact, he seems cut off from his fellow humans as he coldly observes and makes snide remarks about them.  When his no-nonsense nurse Stella (played by the brilliant Thelma Ritter) comments on his voyeuristic obsession (“I got a nose for trouble. I can smell it ten miles away...I can smell trouble right here in this apartment. First you smash your leg. Then you get to lookin' out the window. See things you shouldn't see..." ) , Jefferies dismisses her by asking for lunch.  Earlier, Stella says to him, “Oh dear, we've become a race of Peeping Toms. What people ought to do is get outside their own house and look in for a change. Yes, sir. How's that for a bit of home-spun philosophy? “ - and yet despite her warnings, later on, even Stella becomes addicted to window peering.

Before long, it seems that Jefferies is blinded to what is around him, and can only see what is outside.  Considering that his goddess of a  girlfriend, Lisa Fremont (played by Grace Kelly who is so stunning in this film she seems almost physically radiant), can't get a rise out of him, one has to imagine that Jefferies was either gay, or just a damned contrarian .  How could any heterosexual man not be seduced by the other-worldly-beauty of Lisa as she flits through his apartment in gossamer attire, serving up food from The 21 Club and constantly trying to get a little attention?   However, Jefferies coolly keeps her at arm's length as he is more concerned with what's going on outside of his world.

The first flash of any kind of empathy comes when Jefferies spies Miss Lonleyhearts seemingly dressing for a night on the town.  The middle-aged woman, puts on perfume and make up, and then glides to her front door, opens it and lets in … no one.  She mimics a date, pretends to be enchanted by her dream lover's talk, and then invites him to the table, laughing merrily and toasting him, until finally, the facade cracks and the poor woman breaks down in tears.  All the while, Bing Crosby is crooning, “To See You is To Love You” .  Suddenly we notice something in Jefferies' eyes, and when he toasts the lonely lady, it's his first real flash of humanity - as if he's finally realized that what he's seen (and more importantly what he feels) is part of  the universal human condition .

It's shortly after The Miss Loneylheart's incident that Jefferies begins to suspect the jewelry salesman  of murdering his wife, and suddenly he goes from passive observer to obsessed documentarian, noting the salesman's every move, his interactions with others, his late night comings and goings, and, of course, the absence of his formerly bed-bound wife.  Oddly enough, Jefferies' fixation on this situation begins to draw in Stella (at first), and eventually Lisa (who, it should be noted, risks her life to play detective – also of note during this juncture; Jefferies suddenly seems to be viewing his girlfriend with something more than indifference as she climbs the fire escape to gain entrance into the salesman's apartment – the look on his face as he's watching her is one part fascination and pride, and one part,  unbridled lust...it's as if she's finally proven herself worthy of his love).

It's not until murder is suspected that Jefferies makes any real connection with the salesman (now revealed to be Lars Thorwald) .  Suddenly he has a crime suspect in his sites and this alone seems to be reason enough to make actual contact.  Up to this point, nothing has compelled him to actually reach out to the people he's been spying on, not even witnessing Miss Lonelyheart's fumbled attempt at suicide (though to be fair, Stella attempts to the call the police before Miss Lonelyhearts abandons her plan).  One assumes that had Thorwald never killed, Jefferies would remain a passive participant; watching others, studying them, judging them, but never taking the step to introduce himself to any of them once his convalescence was over.

Viewed today, Rear Window may be nothing more than a charming relic of a by-gone era, a Technicolor glimpse of the way we were.  Surely a bored homebody these days can find many ways to pass his or her time without resorting to peering into the windows of strangers and passing judgment on them...then again, is L.B. Jefferies hobby any different from the basement dwelling internet troll who anonymously posts foul diatribes on the websites of strangers?  Or what about the seemingly respectable individual who spends hours on end viewing photos, videos or live feeds of naked strangers in flagrante delicto ?  Is that any different from the man in the wheelchair going all wolf-like over the hot blond babe he spied doing calisthenics across the alley way?

Older people are fond of talking about the way things used to be; of how when they were younger, neighbors looked out for each other and were friendly.  Oddly enough, no one seems to know anyone in Mr. Jefferies' neighborhood.  And this was back in 1954.  Had we already become that disconnected as a society in the early 50's?  More than anything, Rear Window seems to show that as much as things have changed, they've remained stunningly similar.   We still don't know our neighbors, we're still disconnected from each other, and we only seem to interact with people if there is some kind of long-range barrier (that could be a court yard, or it could be the internet).  We are still a race of Peeping Toms (reality television, anyone?) - constantly staring all goo goo eyed into the windows of other people's lives safe in the assumption that we may be far superior to those we are watching, judging, assuming and drawing conclusions on .

Today, no one needs a pair of binoculars or a high powered telephoto camera lens to see into the lives of others, today it's laid out for anyone; the curtains are parted, the shades are up and privacy is an afterthought.  Today we can all be L.B. Jefferies, using office chairs or easy chairs instead of wheelchairs as we sit in comfort and become entranced by the millions of Miss (and Mister) Torsos and Lonleyhearts who seem to be straining for someone, anyone to look their way and pay them some attention, even if it's brief, meaningless and anonymous.  Welcome to Mr. Jefferies neighborhood.

Thanks Mr. Romano! This definitely gives me a new insight into Rear Window, and I can't thank you enough for taking part in Hitch on the Hump. Now everyone head on over and check out Billy Loves Stu for more fine articles just like this, and if you'd like to be a Guest Poster on Hitch on the  Hump, drop me a line at thelightningbug(@)charter.net and we'll get you set up!

4 comments:

  1. Hi Pax-y,

    What a sharp and insightful post. Your cultural observations are right on. Would you believe I've never seen Rear Window? That's awful!

    Love,
    A

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  2. ANV, What? You've never seen Rear Window? Well, I guess I am going to have to get you a copy. It's one of the greatest films of all time.

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  3. Wow, Pax! This really hits close to home. This is such a great film, but I've never thought about it in this way. Your insight also really left me thinking about my own quiet, suburban neighborhood, where I've lived for over 10 years but don't know the names of the people that live next to me, who've lived there even longer! We just go about our lives, nodding when we see each other in the driveway or out mowing the lawn, and never think a thing about it. Is it any wonder, then, that we've turned into this 'it's all about me' society? I mean, if we don't get to know the people around us, how can we care how our actions might affect them. Lots to think about...

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  4. Great job Pax. This movie contributed to the way I view my own neighbors... the "drunk", the single mother, the alien (E.T. not greencard), the professor, the "don't nobody care" lady. There's also a house that, in 10 years, I've never seen the occupant. Yard always mowed, driveway shoveled, but never a light on, never a sign of humanity. Hmmm. Now I'm wondering what might be buried in everyone's yard. Thanks for the insight.

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