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Wednesday, April 25, 2007 10:01 pm

Movie watching

Making voyeurism acceptable on the big screen

Untitled Document All it takes is a murder to make the subject of voyeurism acceptable to mainstream audiences. Without the violence factor, the subject is just plain sick. Disturbia plays it safe in that regard, but it takes a huge risk by borrowing a plot device from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954). James Stewart stars in the original as an injured photojournalist who spies on the neighbors who live around his vast courtyard. His focus is eventually narrowed to one neighbor (Raymond Burr), who, he believes, has murdered his wife. Disturbia takes this core idea and replaces the Stewart character with a teenager (Shia LeBeouf) under house arrest. He becomes convinced that one of his neighbors, the quietly creepy David Morse, is a serial killer. The plotlines beyond the similar premise are quite different, and Disturbia holds up much better than anyone could reasonably expect. Even so, there was much outrage at this incursion onto Hitchcock’s turf. Rear Window ranks 13th on the Internet Movie Data Base all-time Top 250, placing it highest of all Hitchcock’s films. Although the master of suspense made several better films, Rear Window is still a classic of its kind. Despite the obviousness of its outcome, the suspense level is sustained all the way to the climax, and Hitchcock also proves a master of small spaces. Most of the film takes place in Stewart’s small apartment. The one oddity is the fact that all the time that this professional photographer is watching the strange goings on through his camera lens, he never once snaps a picture. Wouldn’t this be instinct? Michelangelo Antonioni presents a more logical photographer/voyeur in his masterpiece Blow-Up (1966). His photographer (David Hemmings) is fused to his camera, and when he spots a suspicious couple in a park he does much more than watch. When he develops the photos, he sees what appears to be a body in the bushes. As he blows up the photos for a closer look, that image becomes more blurry and ambiguous. Don’t expect an airtight plot. Antonioni raises more questions than he answers, and it’s far from certain that there really was a body in the park. Brian De Palma is regularly accused of ripping off Hitchcock and his themes, but his best use of voyeurism is in the great thriller Body Double (1984). An underemployed actor spies on his beautiful neighbor and eventually witnesses her brutal murder. What we see may not be the truth, and De Palma plays on that human instinct to watch. Isn’t it instinct?  

New on DVD this Tuesday (May 1): Dreamgirls, Alpha Dog, The Hitcher, and Happily N’Ever After.
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