Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Looking Out The Window at Gods and Monsters

"Classic" directors are name dropped every second on IMDB and talked about to a great extent by anyone interested in film, but many directors considered classic haven't really proven their abilities with a classic film. Many directors have made great films, astounding films, but few have made classics.

Alfred Hitchcock certainly did quite a few times in his life, but one of the most notable efforts he ever accomplished was a film called Rear Window(1956). Other directors have tried to match it's suspense, thrills and wit but have yet to compare in either of those three categories.

Another filmmaker who knew how to draw out the best of suspense, thrills and wit was the great James Whales. He made many great films, but he had one masterpiece. The Bride Of Frankenstein(1935) still holds up on many levels today, possibly even more than it did back in its hey day.

When trying to look at classic films, we like to compare them with other classic films of the same time period, or even by the same director. Close Encounters(1977) and ET(1982) both brought us nice aliens for a change, while The Graduate(1967) and Bonnie and Clyde(1967) both fell in our laps in the same year and brought a major shift in cinema. As we often compare films like these, we rarely compare films from different time periods or completely different directors.

Rear Window came some 20 years after Bride of Frankenstein. They represent 2 very different times in history. In 1935 we were about to end The Great Depression and in between wars, while during 1956 we were just coming off the Korean War. The times were much better in the 50s, but there was one thing the country was worried about. The very thing we feared was nuclear war, this led to massive paranoia throughout the country.

Both of these films represent just that, paranoia. In The Bride, everyone is paranoid that The Monster is out to hurt them, but really all he needs is a friend. He is simply misunderstood and taken forgranted for the good he has in him. In Rear Window, LB Jeffries suspects a neighbor of killing his wife and becomes paranoid that he spends every waking moment checking on every move the man makes. The difference between the films is where the blame lies. In The Bride, the blame lies on the people who were too unaccepting of something they didn't understand that they would stop at no length to kill him. In Rear Window, the man really is who we are made to believe he is. Thus the paranoia is proven correct. What is with the sudden shift though? Why all of the sudden is the role changed and the monster really is a monster. It could very well just be that he was made that way by his terrible, complaining, naggy wife. That doesn't cover his actions. The murderer was still in the wrong obviously for killing her, but he may have been brought to the edge as The Monster happened to be at some points of The Bride.

Both films reveal a little something about the paranoia of the time they were made and both reveal themselves in the end to be films about humanity and the hope we have in ourselves and others.

Monday, February 4, 2008

"Oh Dear, Weve Become a Race Of Peeping Toms"

A peeping tom is defined as "One who derives pleasure, usually sexual, from secretly spying on others" by the Websters Dictionary. This is most notably looked upon as a terrible act. This story of the first ever recorded act of the peeping tom was found on http://www.dictionary.com/.

"In an age when we can speak of peeping Tom cameras or electronic peeping Toms we have indeed come far from the time of the legendary peeping Tom. Godgifu (fl. 1040-1080), Lady Godiva to us, pledged her legendary ride as a means of persuading her husband, Leofric, Earl of Mercia, to lower taxes. In the original version of the story she was observed by all the townspeople as she disrobed, but in a much later version of the story a tailor or butcher named Tom was the only person to observe her as she rode by, everyone else having shuttered their windows as they had been asked. Peeping Tom, first recorded around 1796, has become a term for a voyeur, not at all a pleasant fate for this legendary fellow. As W.H. Auden has said, "Peeping Toms/are never praised, like novelists or bird watchers,/for their keenness of observation.""

The line that struck me from this paragraph was the last one. I happen to know of two such films where the peeping tom is praised. In Alfred Hitchcocks 1954 classic Rear Window we follow L.B. Jeffries as he "peeps" on his neighbors through his back window, simply because his leg is broken and he has nothing better to do. Fast foward 53 years and we are brought Disturbia(2007, DJ Caruso) a film starring new "it" boy Shia Lebouf about a kid under house arrest who has nothing better to do than also "peep"on his neighbors.

These two films have more in common than mere peeping. We are made to believe through each films structure that the only time our protaganists have "peeped" is once brought to complete boredom, at least this is at the surface of each film. Both films explore the idea that we are all peeping toms. In Rear Window Stella, Jeffs nurse of sorts, states "We've become a race of peeping toms. What people oughta do is get outside their own homes and look in for a change." Is she merely critiquing Jeff for peeping out his back window, or making a statement about the human race? Furthermore Lisa, Jeff's girlfriend, is seen reading fashion magazines in the end, peeping on the lives of others. Jeff may have quit looking out his back window, but Lisa hasn't, maybe not through a window, but through the pages of a magazine it is her window to the lives of others.

DJ Caruso's Disturbia follows this same ideology but brings it to the new age of technology. We aren't simply looking through the pages of magazines, or out our back windows. We now have a beautiful thing called the internet. Youtube is constantly mentioned throughout the film as well, a website of note that is all about peeping on the lives of others. The last scene in this film also helps drive this point home. Although Kale has finished looking out his back window at the neighbors they aren't going to quit peeping. When him and Ashley are kissing,Ronnie comes around the corner with a camcorder and says "Soon to be the most popular video on YouTube".

While both films are made in completely different times they both drive the same point home, which is completely wrapped up in Stellas statement about we, the human race, being a race of peeping toms.