Before there was Facebook, there was Rear Window. It was (and remains) Alfred Hitchcock’s most perfect film. In it we find “the gaze”…that phenomenon of lovers transposed to the art of memory, which is to say, cinema.
The telephoto lens of our protagonist is fitted to a camera, but he snaps no pictures during the entirety of our film. Nor does he film what he sees onto reels to later exploit the phi phenomenon. His gaze leads directly to his mind…and the events he witnesses are recorded into his memory.
Rear Window is really a film about film–self-referential cinema. It is no wonder that Jean-Luc Godard chose to feature images of Jimmy Stewart with the long lens in his magnum opus Histoire(s) du cinéma. Rear Window is pure cinema.
The further significance is that Stewart’s character L.B. Jeffries embodies the conscience of Hollywood. Indeed, in this case we are the ones watching the watcher (to paraphrase Juvenal). But the essential detail is that Jeffries is making a movie in his head…and we are watching him make it. It is documentary. He is a news photographer who is laid up in a wheelchair during a summer heat wave because he had gotten a little too cavalier on assignment from his magazine. But the true artist never stops working.
We enter the realm of Flaherty and the murky waters of fiction vs. reality–staged spectacle vs. actualités. This is a film about the pure process of motion pictures. The saving grace (other than the breathtaking Grace Kelly) is that the story is as airtight as an alibi. Rear Window is endlessly watchable because of this marriage between the abstract (which may, in many cases, be “felt” only intuitively) and the spectacular.
Before Facebook, there were rear windows. After Facebook, there will remain Rear Window.