Rear Window. Open or Closed?

When I first saw that this week’s topic was about windows the first thing my mind went to was Rear Window. The second thing was Wallace and Gromit: A Close Shave, but for the purpose of this exercise Rear Window works far better. Alfred Hitchcock’s best, Rear Window, I feel, is an excellent exploration of the ideas of open and closed forms in cinema. More specifically, I think it poses the question; is Rear Window open or closed? Is it definitively one or the other?
Instinct kicks in here and leads me to my reflexive answer of saying that Rear Window is a closed film. Of course it is. It’s a constructed, fictional story in a constructed, fictional setting with constructed, fictional characters. We are shown only what Hitchcock allows us to see. The frame is all we know and it’s all our characters know. It “closes in upon itself in the sense that it contains only elements that are necessary,” quite literally given the almost closed setting of the story. According to the reading this week, “Voyeurism is a characteristic visual device of the closed film,” and considering that Rear Window is largely a film about voyeurism, calling it closed seems a real safe bet.

But, maybe like, nah. Rear Window has quite a few open features going for it as well. For example, the film is literally told by looking through a window, spectating a “detail of a larger world”. An open film is a window into a fragment of a reality, not necessarily our own and while Rear Window is fictional, it’s not fantastical. It borders on realism, a key component of open cinema. We sit side by side with our protagonist, only seeing what he can spy from his, um, rear window.

I feel it really comes down to this quote from the reading; “The difference may be between finding a world and creating one”. And Rear Window is created, not found. But this begs further questions. Are all fictional works inherently closed? They are after all often tightly controlled works, the frame is all we know and all we’ll ever get to see. Can enough realism be put in to make a fictional work open? Such as with HBO’s The Wire, a fictional story lauded for its realism. It’s enough to make your head spin.


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