|CHART BY MICHELLE L.|
While I outlined my thoughts (and you gave some of yours) in class here's a brief overview of the film and why we're even looking at it in the first place.
Written by Hitch Collaborator John Michael Hayes based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich
the story is told thru the POV of LB Jeffries, Jeff to his friends, as he is homebound with a broken leg and apparently has no television. He becomes a voyeur of his courtyard neighbors whose stories unfold before us.
From a film-maker or graphic novelists standpoint this is an interesting way to present the story.
If you were able to "see in"-- i.e. if we setup the camera's inside the other apartments like a fly on the wall this would be a completely different story. Choosing HOW you tell your story is nearly as important as WHAT your story is about.
Simply put-- this story is about Jeff's watching his neighbors while struggling to break it off with his longtime girlfriend when he see's what he thinks is the murder of one of those neighbors.
You've seen the movie so that's going to be the end of my recap, here though, are some important character and story elements you should take note of;
1. JEFF AND HIS MEANESS TO LISA
Lisa (pronounced often as LEEZA in the film) is apparently perfect. She's beautiful, she's smart, she has a career and she dotes on Jeff while he's confined to his chair-- and Jeff is pretty rotten to her for at least the first 1/2 of the film.
Like all good storytellers should-- Hitch and his writing team have come up for a backstory here, but it's not spelled out for the viewers (and since we're talking comics here let's call them readers). Jeff has been in this chair and cast for five weeks, it's hot. He has little to do but sit and watch his neighbors. He's also had a lot of time to think. He misses his life as a photo journalist traveling to all parts of the world and now he's seeing Lisa as the socialite she is. He misinterprets her doting as trying to hook him into marriage (although he might not be wrong) and he's come to resent it.
The only marriage he see's from his perspective is a salesman who's bed ridden wife seems to nag him endlessly. That's Jeff's 24/7 world right now and as he remarks to his editor on the phone-- he wants no part of it.
It's also a way to show character evolution. If Jeff was crazy about Lisa from the start where does he have to go? Does he care about her at all? We'll find out.
2. STELLA IS THE WISE OLD MENTOR
Despite not having the formal education of Lisa or Jeff, despite her more simple attitudes towards the world she is the voice of reason and the mentor for the film. She's the sage. She represents us the viewer who can't understand why Jeff wouldn't want to be with Lisa.'
She keeps us the reader grounded through the whole story. She helps to narrate what we're seeing and reiterates points we might have missed as in the comedy scene where she's discussing the dissection of the salesman's wife and how messy it must have been, in case any of us are wondering how he would get the body out -- she spells out that it would be in that suitcase and that's why he takes those late night trips to scatter her parts all over the East River.
3. LISA IS PERFECT-- BUT IS SHE?
When we first meet Lisa we are taken by Grace Kelly's charms-- but her excitement is about her career in the fashion world and how she'd like nothing better than to have Jeff join her-- he doesn't want to give up his photo journalist life but we see from the Life Magazine cover he shot (which is not Lisa by the way) that he DOES occasionally dabble in the fashion world-- so he displays a willingness to come into Lisa's world-- but does she do the same? That's the foundation of the sub plot between the two of them.
4. THE SUPPORTING CHARACTERS ARE AS ENGAGING AS THE MAIN CHARACTERS
Each of the neighbors offer a different look at the lifestyles of New Yorkers in 1954. Each has their own sub plot that they are following.
Miss Torso-- she carries on her role as apparently a single woman with a dancing career who has to juggle all the men who are interested in her. We resolve her story by discovering we were wrong about this assumption and she's actually married to a man deployed (in Korea we can assume) overseas who she is devoted to and only when he returns do we see her truly happy.
The Newlyweds-- the joys of matrimony are evident at first, then the husband seems to try to distance himself from the wife until finally their story comes full circle and we find the wife nagging the husband much like we saw with the salesmen's story-- are we setting up Rear Window 2?
The Dog Couple-- they provide some comedy relief but more importantly they provide the dog who knew too much which will alter the story on it's axis by committing the ultimate storytelling event-- the murder of an animal.
The Composer-- represents the struggling artist as we watch him frustratingly attempt to write a composition.
Miss Lonelyheart-- we've all felt lonely at some point and she becomes a very relatable character as we see her struggle to overcome this loneliness. The brilliance of the story is that she ends up with the composer after hearing his music night after night in the courtyard.
The Salesman and His Wife-- the antagonist of the film. He's hen-pecked. The wife is not presented sympathetically so we develop some level of empathy for his plight but is it enough to give him a pass on killing her? Did he kill her?
Again as storyteller's we COULD show the murder. We could take all suspicion out of it and just have him strangle her right before our very eyes, but the creators here decide to leave it to us to decide and sprinkling in some red herrings here and there we are often shaken off the scent giving us a movie that is not HOW DID HE DO IT but DID HE DO IT? which is often more compelling.
All of these supporting characters allow us to have a break from the main cast but they also provide points of distraction so that we can miss the dog's murder and even go so far as to put Liza in peril.
5. DOES JEFF CARE ABOUT LISA?
You bet he does. Despite the fact that he wants to break it off with her, which he see's as the only "right" thing to do so that she can find someone who wants the life she wants-- when Lisa embarks on various missions-- each of increasing danger-- he is visibly upset-- he is worried for her as she takes each one a bit further than he intended her to.
That's not a guy that doesn't care about this woman.
Over the course of the film we see that Lisa clearly loves Jeff even if we wonder why-- but we also watch Jeff fall in love with Lisa through his expressions as she complete's each mission. He has underestimated her all along-- she actually is perfect.
6. WE END AS WE BEGAN
All good stories need a good ending.
The reader must not feel cheated and the ending has to add up for us as to what we've seen unroll before us.
Jeff is saved by Lisa, Jeff now realizes he loves Lisa, the salesman admits to the murders of the wife and the dog and Jeff now has TWO broken legs after plunging out of the window. Meanwhile Lisa has adopted the fashion style of a photo journalist even if her reading material remains fashion based.
So WHY look at something like this-- because sitting and having you read 200 pages of a graphic novel or a script is a lot more commitment on your part than watching a 2 hour movie.
Because so many techniques used here are ones that have been used in classic literature over and over again.
Because you have to have the ability to tell a story-- you need to be able to shock, surprise, make laugh, scare, startle and keep your readers engaged. Otherwise you will create the cardinal sin of the creative person-- you will bore your reader.
NEXT UP- SALEM'S LOT because I want you to see a story that is not perfect but still effective.