Tag Archives: classics

Rear Window

The first time I saw Rear Window, I was in high school, still living with my mother out in the suburb of a small town. We had neighbours, but each ensconced in their own acre-sized lot, with no windows that could be seen from my windows except in the vaguest way possible. I didn’t even know anyone who lived in an apartment.

It’s a sweltering New York summer, and Jeff (James Stewart), a photographer, is cooped up in his West Village apartment, his broken leg in a cast. He spends his days gazing out his window at the apartment building opposite him, and thanks to the heat wave, tumblr_ogehf50Yis1rfd7lko1_500everyone’s got their windows open and their business on display. It’s a lesson in voyeurism that probably also comments upon the movie going experience, our own gaze from within a darkened theatre into the secret lives of others. “We’ve become a nation of peeping toms,” complains Stella (Thelma Ritter), Jeff’s nurse, and she’s not wrong. But immobilized in a wheel chair, Jeff is spellbound by the people across the courtyard, and becomes convinced that one of them has committed murder. Soon the skeptical nurse gets pulled into his nonsense as well, as does Stewart’s love interest Lisa, played by Grace Kelly.

Now, of course Jeff is watching his neighbours with murder on his mind, but it’s impossible not to note that there’s another big M being observed: marriage. Remember that Lisa, kind, wonderful, thoughtful, beautiful Lisa, is doing most of the pursuing in her relationship with Jeff, and he’s doing most of the resisting. Marriage, to him, is a bigger trap than the cast he’s saddled with on his leg. The other apartment building has all sorts of marriage on display from newlyweds pulling down their blind for “alone time” to the old married couple always bickering. And perhaps the couple so fed up with each other they may resort to murder.

Incredibly, the entire set was built on a Paramount sound studio over two months, the set measuring 98 feet wide, 185 long and 40 high. The courtyard is about 20 to 30 feet below stage level, so they actually tore up the stage and built the courtyard in the basement, which used to be a storage area. That way when you look down from Jeff’s apartment, tumblr_ok3uz6DlfI1qa3aq2o1_500the perspective is just right. The set’s buildings consisted of 31 apartments wired for electricity and plumbed for water; a dozen of them were completely furnished. Georgine Darcy, who played Miss Toros (the dancer), lived in the apartment all day long, resting there between takes as if it were really her home. There were 1000 large lights and 1000 smaller ones to simulate sunlight; once it got so hot on set that it set off the sprinklers. Hitchcock directed the whole thing from Jeff’s apartment. The actors in the building across the courtyard wore flesh-coloured ear pieces and took direction that way.

Rear Window is one of my favourite Hitchcock films. When Sean and I rewatched it recently we delighted in one-upping each other with our running commentary about James Stewart relationships with women in this movie. They’re worse than just dated. But the truth is, the film has held up well and is just as entertaining now as ever. It’s definitely One To Watch.



Last Tango in Paris

If you notice a theme here over the next 10 days, you’re both perceptive and right. I’m off to Paris and to celebrate, I’ll be posting – guess what? – reviews of movies set in Paris! Mais oui!

I must be in a weird mood, and I’m trying not to read into the fact that the first Paris movie I lasttangothought was none other than the craziest of crazies: Last Tango in Paris. If you’ve seen it, you can’t forget it. Marlon Brando plays Paul, a man mourning his wife’s suicide. He meets a young woman, Jeanne (Maria Schneider), when they both view the same apartment with intention to rent. They begin fucking. It was a “no strings attached” relationship before those words really existed. So stringless in fact that Paul insists they share absolutely no personal information, not even first names. The affair continues, graphically, for quite some time, until one day Jeanne shows up to find the apartment empty and Paul gone, without a word of goodbye.

But the story doesn’t end there! They meet again, on the street, and this time Paul, in his grief, spills his story, but Jeanne finds that this loss of anonymity is not exactly to her liking, disillusioning in fact.

last-tango-in-paris-marlon-brando-maria-schneider-1972Director Bernardo Bertolucci was inspired by his own sexual fantasies to make this film. He opens it with two paintings by Francis Bacon, which he visited frequently in real life at the Grand Palais Royal. The film’s palette draws heavily from the colours in these paintings, which reminded Bertolucci of Paris in the winter. He had lofty ambitions for the film, inspired by great art, but what he turned out was instead akin more to pornography?

Why? Because both stars felt “violated and raped” by the process. Maria Schneider, young and naive at the time of filming, felt manipulated into filming some of the more graphic scenes, including one in which Jeanne is sodomized (butter being the infamous lubricant of choice) but the “real tears” are Maria’s, who felt humiliated.  Her shock and revulsion make it impossible not to feel guilty by association. Brando was so incensed that he refused to speak to Bertolucci for 15 years after filming wrapped.

Opening in 1972, of course there was great controversy. People in Paris faced weeks of lineups since foreigners from neighbouring countries with greater censorship laws flocked to see it where they could. In New Jersey, protestors called “Pervert!” to those who dared to see it, and the viewing prompted housewives to apparently “vomit in disgust.”

Nevertheless, the film was undeniably ground-breaking and free, and 40 years later, we’re still talking about it.

A Star Is Born (1937)

1937: Janet Gaynor & Fredric March

Esther, a debatably young woman dreams of Hollywood and accepts money from her doting Granny to make the move. Unfortunately, thousands of Grannies appear MV5BMTg5OTQ3ODgyOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODQyNjQ5Ng@@._V1_to be financing thousands of ingenues, and Hollywood is crawling with unemployed actresses. Esther is nearly down to her last dollar when she meets Norman Maine, a famous film star who eyes her both romantically and professionally. But as they fall in love and he helps her with her career, his own takes hit after hit. An unreliable alcoholic, Norman seems to have used up all the public’s good will.

Although a title card firmly denies this, it has been speculated that the story was inspired by the real-life marriage of Barbara Stanwyck and her first husband, Frank Fay. The character of Norman Maine is thought to be based on several real actors, including John Barrymore, John Gilbert, and John Bowers, who drowned off Malibu during the film’s production. This was the first all-colour film nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, and the first movie in Technicolor to be a critical and box office success. The muted colour palette helped, and so did the repeated jabs at the Hollywood machine. It was funny, and it cleverly avoided excessive melodrama. Esther’s ascent contrasts so starkly against Norman’s descent because the two are clearly in love, but it’s not enough to insulate them against the cruelties of Tinseltown. A true cautionary tale – I just wish Esther got to truly be the star in A Star Is Born, and that pesky Norman took more of a backseat.

As you know, this movie has been remade 3 more times – in the 50s, starring Judy Garland, and in the 70s, starring Barbara Streisand, and right now, starring Lady Gaga, in Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut. I find it a little ludicrous to cast the world’s biggest pop star as an unknown, and an “unattractive” one at that. When Babs did it, it meant something. Her beauty was unconventional, her ethnicity meant that she could have been overlooked. But her talented and fortitude shone through. Lady Gaga has already played the Super Bowl…so, let’s just say she’s a little harder sell. Even so, it’s getting rave reviews, and it’s headed for TIFF, where the hungry audiences will judge for themselves.