Stefan Sharff’s Art of Looking

No RW aficionado can long avoid an encounter with The Art of Looking in Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1997), by Stefan Sharff, if for no other reason than to peruse its very helpful Chapter 4. That chapter, you may know, provides “a description of every shot: framing, action, and timing. In short it is a formal and technical scheme of the entire work” (104). It’s very handy for keeping the film’s many details straight, that’s for sure. For example, in what Sharff calls shot #5, the bravura pan that tours the courtyard before settling in for an inspection of Jeff’s apartment, who are the tenants viewed and in what order? Sharff tells us: we begin with the childless couple–sleeping on the fire-escape platform outside their bedroom–before panning down to Miss Torso–where we linger–going about her morning routine, and then on left and further down to ground level, where we see the alley that leads to the street, and finally the woman who owns the birdcage just as she is removing the cover. And that’s only the first half of the shot.

Helpful though he may be, Sharff is not infallible. His book, which was published before DVDs became widely available, must have depended on innumerable VHS viewings. Some details could not have been seen clearly. Sharff reports the thermometer in Jeff’s room reads 93 degrees. These days we can clearly see that it’s pegged at 94 (interestingly, the Final Script of 1 Dec. 1953 called for a temperature of 84). But this is niggling. More significant are some of Sharff’s omissions. Notice how he handles this famous shot:

151. Cut to long shot of musician’s studio. He plays on the piano the same tune as before, the film’s theme song. A visitor listens (Hitchcock’s cameo). (10 sec.)

Sharff neglects to tell us what AH is doing–winding a clock, something that could be–gasp–metaphorically significant (he’s also standing over the songwriter).

Even so, Sharff’s book is a godsend. It counts 796 total shots, which means I don’t have to. Shot #796 has so much information in it–it lasts “1 min. 42 sec.”–that Sharff must spend a page of text describing it all. Anyway, Sharff’s heart is in the right place: he describes the picture’s correct, pre-Universal, ending:

FADE-IN. Long shot, as in shot no. 1. Bamboo curtain rolls down. “END” credit superimposed. “A Paramount Release” FADE-OUT.

Wait a minute–wouldn’t that be shot #797?


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