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Power of Point-of-View Editing

- Hitchcock's Pure Cinema 04 -

Enhancing the audience by innovative ideas

Hitchcock started his career at a movie studio in England as a title card designer at the age of twenty. Five years later, he became a film director at the same studio. After directing hit films, such as “The Lodger,” “Murder!,” “The 39 Steps,” “Sabotage” and “The Lady Vanishes,” he was invited to come to work in Hollywood in 1939. The rest is history. He soon started to make more popular films and became famous. Hitchcock himself enjoyed attention from mass media the most. His movie always came with something no one had ever done and he was constantly the talk of the time.
For example, in the movie “Notorious,” he challenged the film rating regulation that prohibited the on-screening kissing time to be no more than 3 seconds. Hitchcock made actors stop kissing every 3 seconds and talk, then go back to kiss. By repeating this several times, he created a kissing scene lasting more than 2 and a half minutes without breaking the rule. In a film “Rope,” Hitchcock minimized the camera stops and made the entire film look like as if there is no cut. When “Psycho” was released, it was announced that no one could enter the theatre once the film started to maximize the surprise effect at the end of the film. This was something no one had ever done before.
Moreover, in “North by Northwest” Hitchcock created an unheard of scene, where the main character was attacked by plane in an open farm field. Continuing this trend in “Spellbound” he asked a famous artist, Salvador Dali, to design the most unusual set. Every time his film were released, those new and unusual ideas were used for the publicity, and people stood in long lines, looking forward to seeing those ideas. In “Rear Window” Hitchcock was challenged to make a film in a room where the main character, as well as the camera, never left. With this limited space and mobilization, Hitchcock created the most effective film ever made, and “Rear Window” is considered to be one of his best works.

“Rear Window” known as Point-Of-View Editing

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The plot begins with Jeff, a photographer for a newspaper company. He broke one of his legs a while ago and has been forced to stay in his Manhattan apartment. The only people who visit him daily are the nurse, Stella, and his uptown girlfriend, Lisa. Out of total boredom, he has been spying on his neighbors, who share the same courtyard. These neighbors include a blonde beauty who wants to be a dancer, a music composer who’s been trying to make it big, a lonely middle-aged woman, a newly-wed couple, and so on. One night, Jeff notices a strange behavior of a husband, whose wife is sick in bed and always complaining. The husband goes in and out of the home with a suitcase several times during that night, and the wife vanishes next morning. Jeff starts to suspect that the husband has killed the wife. Lisa and Stella, though they don’t believe Jeff in the beginning, gradually agree with Jeff.
This film’s main components are the conversations in Jeff’s room and the view of people in the other apartments through window. Not all, but a majority of the scenes uses point-of-view editing. Hitchcock considers that this is the most powerful cinematic tool and called it “pure cinema.” In order to understand the power of this editing, you need to understand how these shots are filmed on the set.

Best tool of controlling emotions

When Jeff’s reactions were filmed on the set, there wasn’t a specific object or person that Jeff supposed to be seeing and reacting to. In front of Jeff, or rather the actor James Stewart, there was a film camera and the film crew behind it, including the director, Mr. Hitchcock. James Stuart listened to the director’s instructions and conveyed emotions such as surprised, suspicious, smiling, worried, etc. The reverse shots of people in the other apartments were shot in the different time or different days, without James Stewart’s presence.
Those prints came in to editorial separately. It’s up to the filmmaker to decide how those shots are edited together because this editorial decision will dramatically affect the audience’s emotion. Let us imagine that we have a shot of Jeff looking something through the window and smiling. If right after this shot you edit in a nosy female neighbor taking nap in the courtyard with her mouth open, Jeff’s smile is given meaning in context to the comical existence of this woman. On the other hand, if you place a shot of the blonde beauty exercising in her underwear, his smile becomes somehow sexual. Moreover, if you replace this to a shot of a couple having a nice dinner, his expression shows something else entirely.

Storytelling more than innovative ideas

As you can see, this point-of-view editing can control what the audience thinks or feels. You can even edit back and forth as many times as you want to enhance the feeling. Hitchcock believes that this is the most powerful form of cinema and calls this “pure cinema” – the effect that can only be created in cinema. Of course, the script tells you what image should come after a certain shot. But this is a technique used often in Hollywood. In order to increase the effect on the audience, character’s reactions are changed by bringing a shot from some other scenes, or new point-of-view shots, which wasn’t requested in the script originally, are reshot and edited in a sequence. Knowing the power of point-of-view editing can be a great help for filmmakers to make a shooting plan to achieve more powerful scenes.
“Rear Window” uses this technique more than any other Hitchcock’s film. The audience feels suspicion, surprise, and suspense as intense as Hitchcock planned for them to feel. The fact that the film is confined to such limited space helps the audience identify with Jeff’s irritation of immobility and limited sight. The audience themselves are immobile in a seat in the theatre. The audience’s knowledge of what is happening is also limited, though Hitchcock skillfully manipulates certain information to be known only to the audience, and not to Jeff. He used this spatial limitation as an effect to enhance the audience’s emotion and, again, he successfully played us in this film.
Hitchcock enjoyed being called a genius and the master of mystery or an auteur while he was alive. He left us in 1980 at the age of 80 years old. Throughout his career, he always looked for something new or something no one had ever done before, and showed them to us in his films. If he were still here with us today in this digital filmmaking era, what kind of innovative ideas would he come up with? It’s my greatest regret that we aren’t able to see that reality. However, it’s not his novelty ideas that made his films amazing, but his ingenious way of storytelling. Hitchcock says that everything in a film should be changed so that it is done for the audience. This is the reason why his films still work today and the reason why his films are still considered masterpieces all over the world.

ILLUSTRATOR: Hisako MIYAKE