Sunday, May 13, 2012

Blinds Drawn

This is my first posting in three years, and it may be another three years before I post again, as I have another blog that I do, as well as an off-line life to lead. So why have I, for the moment, pulled this neglected web site out of mothballs? For the worthy cause of film preservation: 

Today, I want to talk about Rear Window, Alfred Hitchcock's classic on voyeurism. This isn't a full-blown critique or analysis. I'll do that later, when I'm able to post more regularly (three years say?) No, this post is really about me, how I recently made an ass of myself over this film, an explanation of how this came to pass, and, finally, a plea for understanding.

Self-Styled Siren, one of the sponsors of the "blogathon" that the link in the first paragraph refers to, recently did an analysis of Rear Window on her fine blog. It was well-written and insightful, with several observations that I hadn't previously considered. As well as one great, big, fat, glaring observation that not only hadn't I previously considered, I hadn't observed, period.

You have to understand that Rear Window is my favorite Hitchcock film, my favorite classic Hollywood film, maybe my favorite film ever. I've seen it at least ten times. I consider myself something of an authority on it. If you've never seen this movie, in which case you've led an empty and meaningless life, I'll give you a brief sketch. Jimmy Stewart is laid up with a broken leg. Bored, he's been spying on his neighbors, including one who may have killed his wife. But that's not important to this conversation. Rather, it's two other neighbors, a middle-aged couple played by Sarah Berner and Frank Cady (Sam Drucker, to all you Petticoat Junction and Green Acres fans out there), and their little white dog, which they lower in a basket from from their upper floor apartment so he can romp and play in the courtyard. In a pivotal scene, the dog is found strangled to death. Self-Styled Siren describes the whole scene and its aftermath, including this observation that caused me to recoil when I first read it:

"...Miss Lonelyhearts, tenderly placing the dog's body in his basket for the last time..."

That's not how I remembered it, and told Siren so in the comments section:

"Please excuse my nitpicking, but I've seen this film many, many times, and I'm positive it was the lady sculptor, who lived at ground level, who put the murdered canine back in the basket."

Hmm, used "who" one too many times. Anyway, the Siren was quick in responding:

"Hm, I don't have this on DVD, but that isn't my memory. Anyone able to check? Or Kirk, did you?"

Um, no, I hadn't. Why should I, when I was, like, positive and all? But seeing as she asked, I would check, and I wouldn't need no DVD, either! I went straight to YouTube, and, sure enough, the scene was there, and, sure enough...Miss Lonelyhearts, not the lady sculptor, places the dog's body in his basket one last time. Sigh.

How could I have been so wrong? I quickly came up with an explanation, which I passed on to Siren:

"...I've always found that scene a little disturbing. Animals (unlike humans) dying in movies always makes me a bit queasy, and I tend to turn away whenever that scene plays."

And it's true. I don't know if it's their utter innocence or what, but animal deaths in movies disturb me much more so than humans. I've only seen The Yearling and Old Yeller once, and it's going to remain once, unless when I die and go to Hell, Satan subjects me to a 24-hour showings of both films.

The fate of giant gorillas probably doesn't affect me as much as deer and dogs, as I've seen King Kong more than once, and surely will again. Still, I find his fall from the Empire State Building rather saddening. Not just the fall itself, but what leads up to it, the way those machine guns on the WWI airplanes gradually weaken the poor simian. No amount of modern-day computer animation can equal the poignancy of the big guy's stop-motion plunge to the streets of Manhattan .

I saw this odd mid-1960s sci-fi flick not too long ago called Village of the Giants, in which Ronny Howard, as he was known back then, invents a potion with his chemistry set that causes two ducks to grow to a size of about 7 feet. A group of teenagers led by Tommy Kirk happen upon these ducks and end up making a grand feast of them. I found that rather unsettling, and I'm not even a vegetarian!

Sometimes the animal doesn't even have to die. I thought it sad in The Diary of Anne Frank when the cat ran away. Really, I should have saved my sympathies for Anne herself, who was taken away.

OK, I'm stalling here with all the morbid movie memories. Yes, I was disturbed when the dog was killed, but that hasn't kept me from seeing Rear Window at least ten times. Also, I really should despise Raymond Burr, who kills the canine, or at least his character did. However, later on during the film's climax, I find myself feeling sorry for the guy, even more so than when Tokyo collapsed on top of him in Godzilla.

So if it's not the dog's demise that made me forget, what was it? Well, there is a lot going on in that scene. First the woman who owns the dog screams, followed by a speech lamenting neighborly indifference as Mr. Drucker sadly looks on. But the neighbors are anything but indifferent at that particular moment. Everybody runs to look--Miss Torso, the people at the party, etc. The lady sculptor runs out of her house. In fact, other than Miss Lonelyhearts, she's the closest one to that dog. Had the lady sculptor just been a little more proactive, she could have pushed Miss Lonelyhearts out of the way, and put the pooch in the basket herself, saving me a lot of grief in the process.

Finally, did I even forget what happened? When I viewed the scene again, it's not like I said to myself, "Oh, yeah, now I remember! Miss Lonelyhearts picked up the dog!" You can't forget something if you didn't notice it in the first place. And I didn't notice, because, in spite of all the times I've seen this movie, I just wasn't paying close enough attention.

I'd make a lousy voyeur.

















Joe Thompson said...

Kirk: I'm sure you could be a good voyeur (that's hard to type) if you put your mind to it ;0) Thank you for interesting observations on how what we remember does not always agree with what we have seen. Hitchcock would have liked that.

Kirk said...

Thanks for dropping by, Joe. What's so weird is, even though I've looked at the clip from Rear Window several times in the past couple days and know I was clearly mistaken, I STILL have a vivid memory of the lady sculptor putting the slain dog in the basket! Maybe it happened in a parallel universe...