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Insight on the News (2000) - Window Dressing




"Rear Window" directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly is reviewed.


Universal Studios follows its restoation of Vertigo with another Hitchcock classic.

Selected for the National Film Registry and the American Film Institute's list of 100 Greatest Movies, Rear Window is a certified classic and why not, with actors Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly working at the height of their powers. The movie garnered Academy Award nominations in 1954 for director Alfred Hitchcock and screenwriter John Michael Hayes (from a story by Cornell Woolrich) as well as nominations for cinematography and sound.

Cinema buffs can watch this droll tale of romance and suspense on video, but they won't see the film Hitchcock made. The original negative had been poorly stored, misused and overprinted; indeed, when Universal acquired rights to the movie, the optical track was unusable, forcing the studio to generate a dupe negative and low-contrast print for the picture's third reissue in 1983.

Now, thanks to the same team responsible for the restorations of Lawrence of Arabia, Spartacus, My Fair Lady and Vertigo, theatergoers can watch Rear Window in glorious Technicolor. "The chromatic brilliance of Hitchcock's original vision of the film, from the great artificial sunsets over Greenwich Village to the purity of the blacks and whites of Grace Kelly's wardrobe, has been preserved," says Ronald W. Jarvis, president of Technicolor's Worldwide Film Group. He's right to boast. The new print is a revelation, its luminescence a fitting tribute to the craftsmanship of the filmmaker and his talented collaborators.

Rear Window refers to the casements fronting the apartment of L.B. Jefferies (Stewart), renowned photojournalist laid up with a broken leg. Jefferies spends his days peering into his neighbor's rooms across a courtyard, his boredom relieved only by visits from his glamorous girlfriend, Lisa Fremont (Kelly). Lisa has marriage on her mind; Jefferies has cold feet as well as a broken leg. But their bickering is interrupted by something more sinister - Jefferies comes to suspect one of his neighbors (superbly played by Raymond Burr) of murder, and he and Lisa set out to prove his hunch.

Remarkably, Hitchcock shot the entire film indoors on Paramount's Stage 18 - designer Sam Comer constructed a single colossal set of 31 apartments nearly 100 feet long, 185 feet wide, six stories tall. Much of the movie takes place without dialogue, the cast pantomiming their roles as Jefferies watches from his wheelchair, and the film's score incorporates songs from their radios and pianos or simply defers to city noises that accent the characters' anxieties. Sound and lighting (as well as Edith Head's marvelous costumes) not only create the mood they become thematic devices, one reason the film's restoration is more than window dressing.

"It's a lot harder to fix a film than to make one," says producer James C. Katz who, with producer Robert A. Harris, oversaw the three-year restoration, ushering the fragile negative through a series of cleanings, color corrections, duping and digital reengineering (to digitalize the whole film would have been prohibitively expensive). Universal then used the restored negative to create a positive print that Technicolor used to make new dye-- transfer prints - a process similar to the one Paramount used nearly SO years ago.

"We're in the business of snatching great films back from the brink of extinction" says Harris, noting that nearly 50 percent of all films ever made have been permanently lost. Considering the fare that has come out of Hollywood at the end of the century, saving good movies seems a far better investment than making new ones.