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Opening Sequence of Rear Window: Analysis of The Cinematography and Mise-En-Scene (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954)

The Analysis Of The Cinematography And Mise-En-Scene In The Opening Sequence In Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954).

Micro elements such as cinematography and mise-en-scene can be used to create all sorts of effects and feelings within a screen play. Cinematography is the use of the camera, the shots used, the angles and distances. When combined and used effectively they can create any mood or feeling, for instance can be used to create the feeling of fear like in a horror film when a point of view shot is used as a character looks around for what is chasing them and then as they turn its stood behind them, this places you in their shoes and you feel the same fear that grips them. Mise-en-scene is the placement of everything in the shot, the objects, the people and the colours. This can be used to create different atmospheres within a scene or frame, for example in a horror film, dark colours and heavy duty, rusted machinery can create a very unsafe atmosphere one of threat and fear. I have chosen Rear Window(Alfred Hitchcock, 1954) as my film to study and the micro-elements I have chosen are Cinematography and mise-en-scene.

The opening sequence is literally a curtain raiser, as it starts with the camera inside J.B Jefferies(Jeff)’s apartment, looking out of the window and as the credits are shown the blinds behind them are slowly raised, revealing a courtyard through three quite large windows, through which most of the narrative takes place. This is similar to watching something at the theater, where the curtains are raised at the start. This brings the audience into a sense of security, we’re in a seemingly nice neighbourhood and its a beautiful morning.

The film then cuts to a slightly angled shot looking out of the window down into the courtyard where a cat is walking along the stairway. The camera stops at the ladder leading to the upper part of the apartment building and tilts slowly upwards, following the ladder, almost like its following someone climbing the ladder, it climbs all the way to the upper apartment balcony where a father, mother and daughter are preparing for the day. The camera then pans left past all of the open windows, none with curtains fully drawn or blinds down. This shows us that there isn’t much privacy here, in and around this courtyard, everyone can see everything going on. There’s a flash from one of the top apartments and the camera pauses above a shorter two story semi-detached building and tilts downwards, we can see a young woman brushing her hair through a small window, like every other window in the courtyard, the windows and the curtains are open. There are small potted plants all around the courtyard and all of the rooms are painted the same dull white. The only way we can tell the apartments apart is by the different things placed in the windowsills, lamps, plants and ornaments litter them. The pigeons on the roof of the shorter building and the people walking along the street help create a normal pleasant atmosphere, you are given nothing bad, so you don’t suspect anything.

A man, presumably the milkman, walks between the shorter building and the other end of the apartment building out into the street and steps onto a tuck that pulls away. The camera then finishes its pan where it started but now looking into the room onto a sleeping Jeff, beads of sweat covering his brow.

The camera cuts to an extreme close up on a thermometer, showing the temperature to be over 90◦. It then moves slowly to the left revealing a man in a studio apartment shaving and listening to a radio, this apartment is the most open, with the entire wall being a big window, the room is cluttered with junk, the floors, shelves and piano are covered in it. The camera then cuts to a medium long shot of a couple asleep on their balcony and remains there for a few seconds before sliding down to the young women in the shorter building who emerges from the small windowed room and into the main upper room, changes her bra then begins stretching in a way that leads me to believe she is or was some kind of dancer. The camera continues down to the gap between the two buildings and shows a dog tied to a lamp post, a truck pulling away and some children in bathing suits running along behind it. There’s someone hanging a towel out of a first floor window. And then the camera comes back to Jeff, this is the first time you see that his leg is broken, we are shown an extreme close up of his cast on it is written, “Here lie the broken bones of J. B. Jefferies” this shows us that although from the mise-en-scene he appears a very uptight person he does have a sense of humour.

The camera then pans across to the most powerful imagery in the opening sequence, it begins with a shot of a smashed up camera on a table, behind it on the wall are mounted, framed pictures of what appears to be a racing accident, on the first image a tire is heading straight for the camera. The other pictures are also powerful images. The camera then continues along the table, past some more photography kit and pauses slightly on a framed negative of a beautiful woman, then in continues along and the same woman in on the front cover of a magazine.

The cinematography throughout this opening sequence is nothing special, but it is a brilliant start to how the film is going to progress. You are shown the whole courtyard from the point of view of someone looking out of Jeff’s window. It shows the audience how little privacy people living in this apartment have and how easily one tenant can see to another. This sequence sets up the film perfectly, giving you a little taster of what the film will contain and also by introducing two of the main characters though one we have yet to meet in person.

The mise-en-scene throughout creates a real urban environment, the placing of the potted plants outside or the pictures on the walls inside some of the apartments give them a more homely feel and allows the audience to believe that this place is real and these events actually happened, this was an actual morning, in an actual city and these are actual people living their actual lives.

This is a very generic opening, with nothing to show that is the beginning of a thriller, none the less a Hitchcock thriller. Although this is different I feel as though it is a very powerful beginning to what is one of the most gripping endings, by one of the best directors in the history of film.

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1 Comment
  1. Posted January 25, 2010 at 8:08 am

    Really interesting and detailed description. We caught most of it on TV today and missed the beginning, so it was great to read your description and analysis.

    I vividly remember the slightly surreal opening of Vertigo, but wasn’t sure about this one.

    I like your point that there is nothing to indicate ‘thriller’ in the beginning, but in this case I think Hitch went for the slow burn.

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