January 2015 Blind Spot: REAR WINDOW (1954)

RearWindow

I’ve been wanting to check this Alfred Hitchcock classic for ages. It seems to be unanimously loved by critics and audiences alike, which always adds a dose of curiosity to see if it would live up to its classic status.

The story centers on a wheelchair bound photographer, Jeff (James Stewart) who spies on his neighbors from his apartment window and becomes convinced one of them has committed murder. It’s interesting that the protagonist is basically a peeping tom, which would’ve been really creepy and disturbing, but because it’s played by such a likable actor like Stewart, you can’t help but like the guy. At first he’s complaining how it’d be a chore to be confined to his apartment and not being able to go out, but after a few hours [or maybe just minutes?], he doesn’t seem to mind at all. In fact, it’s clear Jeff’s become obsessed that he doesn’t even sleep anymore, aside from the occasional dosing off in his chair.

RearWindow_JimmyStewartStewart is perfectly cast here, and his growing fixation with what he think is a murder case is quite amusing to watch. You know a guy is uncontrollably obsessed when he’d rather look out the window than make out with his stunning girlfriend, Lisa, in the shape of Grace Kelly no less. Even in a sea of ridiculously beautiful people that is Hollywood, the late actress still stands out amongst them. I’ve said in my review of To Catch A Thief that she is too beautiful it’s distracting. Well that is still true but fortunately in this movie she was given more to do than simply prance around like a model.

Here she plays a high-society fashion consultant, which is a perfect role for her and once again I’m marveling at every single thing she wears. It’s not just the clothes, though they certainly are amazing, it’s the graceful way miss Kelly wore them [pardon the pun] that made them memorable.

RearWindow_CostumeDesign

I’m shocked that the legendary costume designer Edith Head was NOT nominated for her work here. Say what?? The 1950s costumes are not only gorgeous, they’re practically iconic. I’m curious now who were the costume design nominees that year if they’re considered more worthy what Head did here.

At one of the most amusing and most action-packed scenes, whilst wearing her dainty 1950s floral dress, Lisa managed to climb a ladder up to the second floor of an apartment AND got into the unit through the window! As unbelievable as that scene was, it sure was fun to watch.

RearWindow_LisaClimbLadder

My favorite character in this movie is Jeff’s physical therapy nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter). I love how she’s always berating Jeff for sitting around snooping on people instead of marrying his girlfriend.

RearWindow_Stella_Jeff

She got the best lines and she delivered them with such dry wit:

Stella: Intelligence. Nothing has caused the human race so much trouble as intelligence.

Stella: You heard of that market crash in ’29? I predicted that.
Jeff: Oh, just how did you do that, Stella?
Stella: Oh, simple. I was nursing a director of General Motors. Kidney ailment, they said. Nerves, I said. And I asked myself, “What’s General Motors got to be nervous about?” Overproduction, I says; collapse. When General Motors has to go to the bathroom ten times a day, the whole country’s ready to let go.

My favorite scenes are when the three of them – Jeff, Lisa and Stella – are all speculating and bantering about the neighbor in question. Not surprised that John Michael Hayes was nominated for an Oscar for his screenwriting work.

RearWindow_Stella_Lisa_Jeff

Jeff: Those two yellow zinnias at the end, they’re shorter now. Now since when do flowers grow shorter over the course of two weeks? Something’s buried there.
Lisa: Mrs. Thorwald!
Stella: You haven’t spent much time around cemeteries, have you? Mr. Thorwald could hardly bury his wife in plot of ground about one foot square. Unless he put her in standing on end, in which case he wouldn’t need the knives and saw.

There’s also the conversation between Jeff and his detective friend Thomas J. Doyle (Wendell Corey) who’s vehemently skeptical about Jeff’s suspicion and his murder theory.

Lt. Doyle: Jeff, you’ve got a lot to learn about homicide. Why, morons have committed murders so shrewdly that it’s taken a hundred trained police minds to catch them.

The romance isn’t all that convincing, though in this case it’s meant to be as Jeff is unsure about how he really feels about Lisa. I feel that the romance in Hitchcock films is a hit and miss. I didn’t really buy the romance between Grace Kelly & Cary Grant in To Catch A Thief either, nor between Grant & Eva Marie Saint in North By Northwest. I did love the chemistry between Gregory Peck & Ingrid Bergman in Spellbound though.

RearWindow_romance

Now, the studio set where the movie was shot is practically a character in and of itself. According to IMDb trivia, the entire film was shot on one set, which required months of planning and construction. One thousand arc lights were used to simulate sunlight and all the apartments in the building across from Jeff’s apartment had electricity could be lived in. That’s just incredible! Right from the opening sequence, the set look like it’s custom-made for the film, but the artificial look of it is part of the charm. Both Robert Burks and Loren L. Ryder were both nominated for Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Sound, respectively.

So what’s the verdict?

RearWindow_VoyeurismWell I’m glad to say that this was definitely an enjoyable film that’s perhaps also rewarding on repeat viewings. I love all the interesting details even in the tertiary characters and the various personalities of Jeff’s neighbors here that adds another layer of intrigue. Of course the film also packs a lot of interesting themes and commentaries about psychology, human nature and such that’s intrinsic in most of Hitchcock’s films.

What surprises me was how playful it is and overall the tone is much lighter than I expected. Considering this was billed as a mystery thriller, I was expecting a much more suspenseful and perhaps something more threatening. The only real tension was in the finale, which was also quite hilarious at the same time as [spoiler alert!] Jeff tried to blind the intruder by taking a series of photographs of him with his camera. Given that he had to change the light bulb every time he took a photo, you’d think the intruder would’ve had ample time to attack him! Raymond Burr cut an intimidating figure as Mr. Thorwald, though he barely had any lines in this movie.

Now, those aren’t quibbles so much as my observation. Naturally some things are quite dated but given the time it was made, it was perfect for that time. I think it’s more of a dark comedy with elements of mystery than a thriller, but it’s still a well-crafted and entertaining film nonetheless. This one certainly lives up to the hype and what one would consider an enduring classic.

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2015BlindSpotCheck out my list of 2015 Blind Spot Films


Have you seen Rear Window? Well, what did YOU think?

Monthly Roundup: What I Watched in February

FebruaryRecap

Happy March everybody!! It’s still Winter here and we actually may get snow showers on Monday but I don’t care, I’m going to have tulips on my recap banner today!! Think Spring. Think Spring. Think Spring. 😀

Ok, now that I’ve got that out of my system.

Well, February has been quite a hectic month, blogging and otherwise. It’s also been VERY cccccolddd…  more days w/ subzero temps than I remember. But… according to a local meteorologist, historical weather data shows the coldest 90 days of the year, on average, are from December 1 to March 1, so yeah!! Plus, We’ve picked up over 2 hours and 20 minutes of daylight since December 21,  I love it when it’s still somewhat light out when I get out of the office.

Ok, enough with the weather report, or you’re gonna think you’re stranded in a weather blog 😉

Here are some posts you might’ve missed in February:

I participated in a couple of major blogathons this month. They’re both challenging and took some effort, but very rewarding when I’m done. Hope you check ’em out if you haven’t already.

BlogathonsFebruary

Motifs in Cinema: Marriage in Films   |  31 Days of Oscar: Spotlight on Edith Head

Now, as far as movie watching, it’s actually been a pretty good month as I saw about 20 films and TV shows. That’s quite a lot for my standards, usually I can only fit a dozen or so.

New Releases:

New to me:

Code 46

Code46

Bill Cunningham New York

BillCunningham

People Like Us

PeopleLikeUs

All About Eve

AllAboutEve

The Heiress (review upcoming)

TheHeiress

Bel Ami

BelAmi

Hotel Transylvania

HotelTransylvania

Tube Watch:

Rewatch:

Favorite Movie seen in February:

AllAboutEve_vintageposter

There should be no surprise this one would top everything else this month.
An absolute masterpiece that I definitely wouldn’t mind watching this time and time again.


Well, that’s what I’ve been watching this past month. What’s YOUR favorite movie of the month?

31 Days Of Oscar – Spotlight on Hollywood’s Costume Queen Edith Head

31DaysOscar2013

This is my contribution to a mammoth blogathon event created by Paula (@Paula_Guthat) of Paula’s Cinema Club, Kellee (@IrishJayhawk66) of Outspoken and Freckled, and Aurora (@CitizenScreen) of Once Upon a Screen that coincides with Turner Classic Movies’ 31 Days of Oscar, February 1 to March 3, 2013. It’ll be a month filled with fabulous tales and screen wonders.

I’ve agreed to do a post on the famed costume designer Edith Head as I love fashion and movies. Seems like an easy subject right? Well, not quite. I found myself quite stumped as to where to start. I mean she has contributed to over a thousand films! But I’m going to attempt to enlighten myself with this post, and hopefully you’d learn a bit more about her in the process.

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Edith Head (October 28, 1897 – October 24, 1981)

  • Born Edith Claire Posener in San Bernardino, California, the daughter of Jewish parents, Max Posener and Anna E. Levy.
  • Received a bachelor of arts degree in letters and sciences with honors in French from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1919 and earned a master of arts degree in romance languages from Stanford University in 1920.
  • Attended the Chouinard Art College where she met her husband, Charles Head, who was the brother of one of her Chouinard classmates, Betty Head. Though they got a divorce in 1936, she kept her maiden name to continued to be known professionally as Edith Head until her death.
  • Before she entered the film industry, she was a high school teacher of French and art looking for a way to supplement her income.
  • Famous for wearing “sunglasses” they actually weren’t sunglasses in the beginning, but blue glass lenses on regular frames. It was a common trick for Costume Designers to look through blue lenses to get a sense of how the clothing would read on black and white film. Instead of looking through a single lens monocle as was common, Head had blue lenses put in normal frames. Later, she replaced the lenses with regular tinted lenses. [per DailyMischief.com]
  • Edith Head died of Bone Marrow Diseases on October 24, 1981 in Los Angeles.

The petite (5’1″) Edith got her start at Paramount Pictures as a sketch artist when she was only 27 years old in 1924. Believe it or not, she actually borrowed another student’s sketches for her job interview (wonder what happened to that girl?). By 1927, she started working on silent films. She might even had a hand in the first Oscar-winning film Wings, though she was uncredited. By the 1930s, she had already established herself as one of the industry’s leading costume designers.

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I think her key to her success could be that she consulted extensively with the female stars she worked with. I think that’s surely a lesson every costume designer should take to heart. I mean, it’s a mutually beneficial process when you keep the person you’re designing for in mind to make sure the outfit or dress is flattering on their figure. What worked for spindly Audrey Hepburn certainly wouldn’t have worked for the voluptuous Sophia Loren. It’s no wonder Edith became the favorite of the 40s and 50s leading ladies, such as Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Sophia Loren, Barbara Stanwyck, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Natalie Wood, amongst others. They would personally requested to work with her so Paramount often had to ‘loan’ her out to other studios.

“A designer is only as good as the star who wears her clothes”
Edith Head

According to Encyclopedia.com, Edith described herself on one occasion as “a better politician than costume designer,” Head was expert at handling star temperament, preferring to yield ground on a neckline or dress length than engage in a battle of wills. The conservative, neutral-colored suits she perennially wore symbolized her willingness to suppress her individuality in the interests of her craft.

Edith_Hitchcock
Edith consulting with Hitchcock and Ingrid Bergman

She worked at Paramount for 43 years until she went to Universal Pictures in 1967, it’s perhaps no coincidence that her move was prompted by her extensive collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock, who had also moved to Universal, in 1960.

I used to do sketches when I was growing up, so I LOVE looking at sketches like these I found on this Fashion Journal. Apparently she released a book called How to Dress for Success, published by Random House in 1967.

EdithHeadSketches


“You can have anything you want if you dress for it.”

– Edith Head

A Legendary Career

During her 44 years as head designer at Paramount, and additional 14 years at Universal, Head worked on a total of well over a thousand films. She won a record of eight Oscars for Best Costume Design out of 35 nominations (unrivaled to this day).

EdithHead_Oscars

Here are her Oscar-winning costumes:

The Heiress, 1949

Edith_TheHeiress

Samson and Delilah, 1950

Edith_SamsonDelilah

All About Eve, 1950

Edith_AllAboutEve

The story goes that the silk cocktail dress that Bette Davis’s Margo wears in the Eve’s famous party scene didn’t fit her, in fact it slipped off her shoulders, causing Edith to freak out right before the scene was supposed to be shot. But Ms Davis pulled off the neckline, shook a shoulder, and said, “Don’t you like it better like this anyway?” [per RookieMag.com]

A Place in the Sun, 1951

Edith_APlaceInTheSun

Roman Holiday, 1953

Edith_RomanHoliday

Sabrina, 1954

Edith_Sabrina

Although Edith Head won an Oscar for Best Costumes, most of Audrey Hepburn’s “Parisian” ensembles were, in fact, designed by Hubert de Givenchy and chosen by the star herself. However, since the outfits were actually made in Edith Head’s Paramount Studios costume department, some felt that doing so created enough of a technicality to nominate Head, instead of Givenchy. And, indeed, since she refused to have her name alongside Givenchy’s in the credits, she was given credit for the costumes, even though the Academy’s votes were obviously for Hepburn’s attire. Head did not refuse the Oscar, however.
[per Wikipedia]

The Facts of Life, 1960

Edith_FactsofLife

The Sting, 1973

Edith_TheSting

What a costume designer does is a cross between magic and camouflage. We create the illusion of changing the actors into what they are not. We ask the public to believe that every time they see a performer on the screen he’s become a different person.
– Edith Head

My personal five favorite Edith Head dresses

Picking just FIVE favorite Edith Head dresses are akin to Sophie’s Choice. So I’m not ranking these, I mean they are all equally exquisite, largely because of the elegant beauties who wore them. Edith certainly knew how to dress each woman in a way that they accentuate the best of her figure.

FaveEdithHeadDresses
Click on the image to see a larger version so you can see the details on these dresses

  1. Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina
    When I first beheld this amazingly beautiful dress I literally gasped. I mean the ornate details on the bodice and flowing skirt is nothing short of breathtaking.

  2. Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s
    The classic little black dress (LBD). Worn to perfection dress by Audrey Hepburn, it actually gave her a bit of curves to her extremely slender figure. I think the accessories here are key, the pearls, tiara, large black sunglasses, and of course, the right ‘tude, made this look eternally chic.

  3. Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun
    I actually haven’t seen this film yet but I came across this photo a while back and I did a double take. It’s not the kind of dress I’d ever have the courage to wear, but Liz Taylor had the figure and gracefulness to pull it off beautifully. The cluster of little flowers on her chest, fitted bodice that accentuate her teeny-tiny waist, and the full organza skirt… this is a fairy tale dress fit for a Disney princess!

  4. Grace Kelly’s in Rear Window
    I guess when you’re working with an unbelievable beauty like miss Kelly, anything you put on her would look amazing. But Edith’s dresses are often as gorgeous as those who wore them, and this one is definitely one of them. It’s a simple dress yet so incredibly striking… I love that Edith pared down the accessories so the dress became the focal point.

  5. Ann Baxter in All About Eve
    There are certainly a boat-load of gorgeous costumes in this film, but for some reason I love this simple one that most people probably don’t remember, favoring the one that Bette Davis wore when she said her famous line, ‘It’s gonna be a bumpy night.’ What I like about this one is how understated ans sweet it is, but that sheer neckline is just sublime. It accentuates Ann’s petite figure beautifully, and it’s interesting that in this sweet, demure dress, she displayed her most cunning scheme to Celeste Holm’s character. It’s an intriguing dichotomy.

“Your dresses should be tight enough to show you’re a woman and loose enough to show you’re a lady.”
– Edith Head

Edith in Popular Culture

EdnaModeNot only did Edna created iconic gowns for Hollywood’s classic beauties, but she’s also got her own iconic look of her own with her round-rimmed glasses, short blunt cropped hair and full bangs and her ‘uniform’ of pencil skirt suit. She even made her mark in popular culture in The Incredibles, as Edna Mode, the fashion designer to the Supers, was based on Mrs. Head. [Another bit of trivia: she was voiced by director Brad Bird].

Edith became as big a star as the leading ladies she dressed. There’s even a play based on her which wrapped in L.A. in the Fall of 2010. A Conversation with Edith Head was brought to life by Susan Claassen — who bears a striking resemblance to the real life designer — in her one-woman show. See the ad below:

ConversationWithEdithHeadPlay

Edith was commemorated by a US 37 cents postage stamp, issued on February 25, 2003, depicting Ms Head at work.

Edith_PostageStamps

Check out this screen test of Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, where Edith was interviewed on her process of creating the costumes for the film:

Books written by Edith:

  • With Jane Kesner Ardmore, The Dress Doctor, Boston, Massachusetts, 1959.
  • With Joe Hyams, How to Dress for Success, New York, 1967.
  • With Paddy Calistro, Edith Head’s Hollywood, New York, 1983.

There a Pinterest devoted to her sketches, see below:

Edith_holdingmanequins

I feel like I could never do Ms Head justice with my post. Having been reading all kinds of articles on her the past week, I’ve hugely admired her talents and work ethic and marveled on her beautiful costumes. Catherine Martin, the Oscar-winning costume designer for Moulin Rouge! whose work will be seen in the upcoming The Great Gatsby called Edith ‘the quintessential costume designer.’ Edith has become synonymous with fashion on film, and her amazing work left such a huge mark on Hollywood, more than any other person in her profession.

Per TCM.com, screen legend Bette Davis gave this eulogy at Edith’s funeral:

“A queen has left us, the queen of her profession. She will never be replaced. Her contribution to our industry in her field of design, her contribution to the taste of our town of Hollywood, her elegance as a person, her charms as a woman – none of us who worked with her will ever forgot. Goodbye, dear Edith. There will never be another you.”

What an icon… what a woman!


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I hope you’ve enjoyed this tribute.

Share your thoughts on Hollywood’s costume queen and feel free to share your own favorite Edith Head’s costumes.