(reader) Mise-en-Scene: Rear Window

Mise-en-scene is a French term that means “the action of putting onto the stage”. Mise-en-scene plays a crucial role in filmmaking by shaping the visual and emotional aspects of a film. It is an essential component of a filmmaker’s toolkit for storytelling and artistic expression. The elements that make up mise-en-scene consist of set design, costumes, lighting, props, and composition.

The setting, the physical location of where things take place, greatly influences the tone, mood, and narrative of the film. The movie Rear Window was set in Mr. Jeffries’ apartment. The director made great use of putting the audience into the space as the opening scene was of a long shot of the apartments seen outside Mr. Jeffries’ window as well as a shot of the inside of his apartment which is cluttered with photographic equipment, maps, and travel souvenirs, emphasizing his adventurous and restless nature. The apartments across the courtyard are meticulously designed to represent the personalities and quirks of their inhabitants. Miss Torso’s apartment is a lively and vibrant space, reflecting her outgoing and flirtatious personality. The constant stream of male visitors, the dancing, and the attention-grabbing outfits create a tableau of single life in the city. The design of Thorwald’s apartment is ominous and unsettling. Its darkness, the closed blinds, and the eerie use of red lighting all foreshadow his involvement in the film’s central mystery. It is a stark contrast to the other apartments, emphasizing his role as the potential antagonist.

Hitchcock uses the changing quality of daylight to signal the passage of time and to set the mood of the scene. The film opens with the morning sun streaming into Mr. Jeffries’ apartment, creating a bright and optimistic atmosphere. As the day progresses, the light gradually changes, casting different shadows and reflections within the courtyard, which Mr. Jeffries observes through his rear window. This naturalistic approach to lighting helps the audience experience the passage of time along with the characters. In contrast to the natural light outside, the interiors of the apartments are often illuminated with artificial light sources, such as lamps and overhead fixtures. These artificial lights cast warm and inviting glows, adding to the sense of intimacy and domesticity within the various apartments. The use of artificial lighting also allows Hitchcock to selectively illuminate certain elements within each apartment, drawing the viewer’s attention to key details, characters, or actions. For instance, when Thorwald’s apartment is revealed to be unusually dark and red-lit, it creates a sense of foreboding and intrigue. The use of shadows also underscores the theme of voyeurism and hidden secrets, as Mr. Jeffries’ observations are often limited to the shadows and glimpses he catches of his neighbors.

The costumes the characters wear reveal a lot about the characters’ traits, social status, and the time period that the film takes place in. Mr. Jeffries wore comfortable clothes, mainly pajamas and slippers. This attire underscores his physical limitations and reinforces his role as an observer rather than an active participant in the events outside his window. Lisa wore high end dresses, shawls, heels, and always had her makeup done. Her transition to more casual attire symbolizes her evolution as a character from a superficial socialite to a determined and resourceful investigator.

Props, objects within the frame that characters interact with, can either be functional or symbolic. They can also convey important information about characters and the story. Miss Lonelyheart is one of the neighbors under Mr. Jeffries’ watchful eye, and her props play a significant role in her characterization. She collects a variety of men’s hats, which she arranges on a shelf in her apartment. These hats symbolize her longing for companionship and her desire to fill the void in her life. Her interactions with the hats reflect her loneliness and imagination. A critical prop in the film is the wedding ring worn by Mrs. Thorwald, which becomes a central plot point. When Mr. Jeffries sees Mrs. Thorwald’s ring in Thorwald’s possession, it raises suspicions and drives the narrative forward. The ring serves as a powerful symbol of guilt and deception. Other props in Thorwald’s apartment, such as the suitcase and jewelry, further implicate him in the disappearance of his wife. These props not only advance the plot but also create a sense of unease and suspense.

Hitchcock’s framing and composition are exceptional in this film. He uses long takes and carefully planned camera movements to guide the audience’s attention. The use of close-ups, wide shots, and zooms adds depth to the storytelling. The window itself acts as a frame within a frame, highlighting Jeff’s voyeuristic perspective. The audience, like Jeff, becomes a voyeur, watching the neighbors’ lives unfold through this window. Hitchcock often uses long takes and wide shots to establish the spatial relationships within the courtyard and between Jeff and his neighbors. These shots emphasize the interconnectedness of the characters and their proximity, both physically and emotionally. To draw the viewer’s attention to specific details or characters, Hitchcock employs zooms and close-ups. Close-ups of characters’ expressions convey their emotions and reactions. For example, he zooms in on Thorwald’s face when he first appears, highlighting his suspicious behavior.

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