Cinema as an Eye

Rear Window (1954) follows a wheelchair bound L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart), a photographer, who out of boredom starts to spy on his neighbours from his apartment window. He is soon convinced that one of them has committed a murder. Principally confined to one room, Alfred Hitchcock shoots the film from Jeffries’ perspective, allowing the viewer to be the main character. The gender roles of this film could be interpreted in different ways. From a males perspective, “Miss Torso” cleaning her apartment whilst stretching and practicing her dance moves while scantily dressed it becomes an erotic scene. Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly) is a woman who is definitely pleasing to the males gaze. She is glamorous and fashion forward young woman and we even see her in men’s clothes by the end of the film. She is also assertive and independent, which almost leads her into a great deal of trouble when Mr. Thorwald (Jeffries neighbour who may have committed murder) finds her snooping around his home. I was sure she was going to be murdered.

Laura Mulvey explores the concept of the ‘male gaze’ in her visual essay ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ (1975). The concept has always been present in earlier studies of the gaze, but it was Mulvey who really brought about its importance. Mulvey stated that women were objectified in film because heterosexual men were behind the camera. Hitchcock’s Rear Window is used as an example of voyeurism with in cinematic relationships. As previously discussed, Mulvey argues we see through the eyes of Jeffries, only because he is a privileged man. Contrasting this, she believes Lisa serves a purpose of a ‘passive image of visual perfection’ (p.5) by entering Mr Thorwald’s home and becomes part of the story Jeffries watches from afar. Therefore, she is reduced to an object, seen under the ‘male gaze’.

I personally disagree with Mulvery, I chose this particular image (Figure 6) because it really sums up how Hitchcock has brought so much focus on Lisa and depicts her as a strong woman. The fact that Lisa was in control, not Jeffries is apparent through out the film. Furthermore, we see Jeffries in pyjamas through out the movie and he is dependant on the women around him because of his broken leg. It would appear both characters swapped gender roles. Lisa becomes the hero, saving Jeffries when he is unable to protect himself. Hitchcock conveys all of which through his careful staging of each scene and purposeful editing. It is Hitchcock who decides what we see and has the power to guide our gaze.

 

 

Modleski, Tania (1988) The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Theory. New York: Metheun.

Mulvey, Laura (1975) Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. In Screen Vol.16 No.3 P.5
OVID, & MARTIN, C. (2004). Metamorphoses. New York, W.W. Norton & Co.

Pollock, G. (1988) Vision and Difference: Felinity, Feminism and the
Histories of Art. London: Routledge. P.85-7

 

 

 

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