“Fascinating courtly intrigue and bloody power games set on a generation ship full of secrets―Medusa Uploaded is an imaginative, intense mystery about family dramas and ancient technologies whose influence reverberates across the stars. Disturbing, exciting, and frankly kind of mind-blowing.” ―Annalee Newitz, author of Autonomous
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Rear Window: The Most Perfect Movie Ever Made
a list of the top ten of anything seems futile. Lists like that are
subjective – what I like may make others go, “Meh.” Also, what
makes this week's list may not make next week's. Plus it's probably
not reasonable to limit lists to ten choices – Top Ten is an
advertising gimmick that we've all bought into a little too readily.
said that, I have to admit that there is one good reason to
make a list of your top ten favorites of something, and that's to
give exposure to things you like, promoting them to people who may
enjoy them. That's why I've decided to list my top ten favorite
movies. My real list of favorites is way too long, but I'll pick the
ten that occur to me as I write this. They're in no particular order
– but there is one movie that I consider to be the most perfect
movie ever made, so I'll put it at the top of the list. It's Alfred
Hitchcock's version ofRear Window.
perfect movie has to take the best possible advantage of its medium,
which is primarily visual. It has a finite amount of time to tell
its story, so each frame has to count – there can be no unnecessary
scenes or shots. It has to have an excellent cast. And the story
has to be good enough to make you keep your eyes on the screen the
whole time, wondering what's going to happen next. If it isn't a
silent film, the score has to complement the visuals rather than
detracting from them. If you can do all that, you've made a perfect
you watch Hitchcock's Rear Window, you
may be deceived into thinking that not much thought went into it.
It's so seamless, you can't see how clever it is. There are two
sets, and they blend into each other. The whole shebang – Jeff's
apartment, the courtyard, and the other apartments the main
characters can see into – was filmed on a big soundstage. The
sounds and music in the movie are ambient, what you would naturally
hear if you lived in one of those apartments. This enhances the
reality of the setting, and puts the characters and story in the
forefront. We're really there with 'Jeff' Jeffries, a world-traveling
photographer who's laid up with a broken leg and going stir crazy.
That's why we're able to see, almost from the beginning, that things
are not what they seem.
screenplay is based on Cornell Woolrich's short story, “It Had To
Be Murder.” Woolrich was one of the best American short story
writers of the 20th
Century, a master of suspense. John Michael Hayes' adaptation is
perfect, and I suspect it was shaped as much by the cast as it was by
the necessities of the movie medium. Grace Kelly owns the role of
Lisa – I think it's her best role ever. She's so believable, you
know she lives beyond the story, having adventures well into her 90s.
Stewart made several great movies with Alfred Hitchcock, including
Vertigo is marred by
an info-dump scene in which Kim Novak's character writes a letter
explaining a plot point. The studio insisted this was necessary,
because the executives who saw the first screening were too dumb to
figure out what was going on. If Hitchcock could have lived long
enough to see the “Director's Cut” videos that have since become
the norm, I'm sure he would have insisted on releasing a version
without that dopey letter scene in it.
Rear Window made it to
the final cut without that sort of tampering. Complementing Kelly
and Stewart is a cast of veteran character actors. Thelma Ritter
shines as the visiting nurse, Wendell Corey makes you believe he's a
police detective who also fought in WWII. The actors who play the
neighbors whose antics are so fascinating really seem to be living
the lives of those people. And Raymond Burr is one of the scariest
movie killers I've ever seen.
Burr is a big guy, he's not an ax-wielding, snarling, macho kind of
killer. He's clever, quiet, and sneaky. You don't get a hint of the
violence he's capable of until someone actually confronts him. Even
then, you get the feeling he'd rather not mix it up with anyone, he
just wants to get rid of the multiple packages that used to be his
wife and get on with his new life.
character is also not a macho guy, though he has a lot of courage.
He's never afraid to say what he thinks, but even if he didn't have a
broken leg, you get the feeling Burr could have kicked his butt.
That's what makes the final confrontation between the two so
terrifying moment that stands out in Aliens
is the scene where the door to the freight elevator opens. You
suspect the Queen alien is crouched in that shadowy space, but you
don't know for sure until you see the light glistening on those
dreadful teeth. In Rear Window,
the cinematographer manages to achieve that effect with Raymond
Burr's glasses as he steps into Jeff's darkened apartment. Somehow,
this nerd gear is transformed into something really creepy and
threatening. Burr manages to make the salesman sound both pathetic
and dangerous when he demands to know who Jeff is and what he wants.
Window doesn't have a formal
score, unless you count the title sequence (“Juke Box #6”), a
delightful crime-jazz piece written by Franz Waxman in the heyday of
the great movie scores. Otherwise, music plays on the radio, or is
sung by drunken partygoers, or is tinkered together on a piano by a
struggling songwriter in his rooftop studio. The song he's working
on eventually becomes an integral part of the plot, and by the end of
the movie it's “Lisa's Theme.”
plot threads are woven into a satisfying conclusion, and Jeff and
Lisa reach a believable accord in their relationship. The ending of
the movie is every bit as perfect as the beginning. That's why Rear
Window will always make my list
of top ten greatest movies.
Nine of my novels were published in the U.S. by NAL/Penguin/Roc, under three pen names. I've also been published in the U.K., Italy, China, and Israel. My novels are Shade, Larissa, Scorpianne, EggHeads, The Kronos Condition, GodHeads, Broken Time (which was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award), Belarus, and Enemies. I have two new novels from Tor: Medusa Uploaded (May2018) and Medusa in the Graveyard (July 2019).
My short stories were published in ASIMOV'S SF MAGAZINE, the Full Spectrum anthology, The Mammoth Book of Kaiju, UNCANNY, CICADA , SCIENCE FICTION WORLD, ALFRED HITCHCOCK, CLARKESWORLD, THE SATURDAY EVENING POST, and ABORIGINAL SF, whose readers voted me a Boomerang Award.
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