For Alfred Hitchcock, cinema was a revival of life with all the boring parts cut away in the editing phase, and this philosophy is applied to perfection in its masterpiece The window on the courtyard: imaginative thriller and unsurpassed and unsurpassed staging, the film directed by the master of the thrill in 1954 is the greatest cinematic work ever made about watching, understood as a voyeuristic act not an end in itself but linked to that philosophy of visual investigation which is typical of the best cinema possible.
In a particularly flourishing period of his career, and having landed in Hollywood a few years ago, Hitchcock had presented himself at the Mecca of cinema signing first the experimental and reckless Knot in the throat and then Lady Considine’s Sin, for him an unusual costume drama which, however, had given him the opportunity to reunite with Ingrid Bergman later I will save you e Notorious. And in that year, 1954, the author had already been released in theaters with another film, The perfect crime, shot in 3D and starring Grace Kelly, with whom he will collaborate, just as he did for Bergman, two more times.
The first, in the same year of The perfect crime, with the even more perfect The window on the courtyard.
Everyday life and yellow
The plot, built on three main axes, is very famous and will subsequently be resumed, with different shades, by many other directors, not least Krzysztof Kieslowski with The Decalogue. Photojournalist LB Jefferies, an adventurous and carefree James Stewart, he is stuck not only at home but even in a wheelchair due to a bad leg fracture, which he must keep absolutely at rest.
The end of what he considers a captivity has almost come, but it is made unbearable by the constant visits of the nurse maid and especially from the spasmodic courtship of Lisa, a beautiful girl with whom he is in love but which he considers too sophisticated for him, accustomed as he is for work to leaving New York overnight for the most exotic countries.
About a week after his recovery Jefferies begins to love his neighborhood, which from the security of his apartment he starts spying with binoculars: and it is precisely by scrutinizing the lives of others that he will be convinced that the opposite man, a shy and grumpy man, could have killed his own wife.
So here are the three main axes that we mentioned at the beginning of the paragraph: Hitchcock erects the foundations of The Courtyard Window on the protagonist, always motionless (like a camera with a tripod), on the neighborhood (ie the object of the character’s gaze, which becomes that of the audience) and his reactions, the real cause of the crescendo of suspense. Protagonist and camera will never leave their fixed position, the tension will always be built through the reverse shot, rarely so effective.
Son of a Catholic upbringing that has always seen him in awe, then, Hitchcock with The Courtyard Window he seems to be fascinated by the relationship that interconnects people and the dubious morality that governs their lives, distant but within reach, each with its own secrets.
As in the cinema, watching is tantamount to invading the privacy of others, penetrating their worlds, and the more unpronounceable the mysteries to be revealed, the more the gaze, instead of withdrawing, will be attracted to them.
The fascination of looking
Ma the charm of looking that permeates everything The window on the courtyard is above all objectified, almost as if to reiterate how he is not tied exclusively to the protagonist and his passion for the image (after all he is a photographer, and for his investigation he will use the “tools” of the trade) but that he releases himself to contact the viewer.
It is no coincidence that the first glance that will be turned outside the apartment, the courtyard and the life of the neighborhood does not belong to the protagonist: Hitchcock starts the film with a false subjective that will only later reveal the face of James Stewart, surrounded by super-detailed objects that tell us everything about him without saying anything (the camera, the negatives, the photos, immediately establish who and what Jefferies is) while we see him busy doing something else.
The protagonist is therefore not attributable to the overview offered by the film, that first attack is all of the author and unites – as the rest of the film will reiterate – the character to the viewer, since both will be blocked in the exhausting condition of never being able to reach the subject of their gaze.
Subject, but also subjects: The courtyard window captures all aspects of life in the condominiums that he finds himself observing, the characters are always embedded in the frames of their windows (rectangular symbols of other private worlds, other stories, other cinema screens) and represent all the phases of that married life from which Jefferies wants to escape but with the which, thanks to the (dis) adventure he will live with Lisa, he will learn to come to terms.
Why, and it is this aspect that makes Hitchcock’s film the immense work it is, if James Stewart plays the double part of character and spectator, Grace Kelly, as the object watched, automatically becomes the protagonist of the story.
The viewer, ie Jefferies, will be drawn to Lisa as she walks through the meta-cinematic door to the courtyard and ends up in the window, in the frame, on the cinema screen on this side of which Jefferies is sitting watching her.
She will act as the active protagonist of the story at the center of the story, like the heroine of a film, becoming the conscious subject of one of those dangerous adventures for which he did not consider her worthy.
The viewer will then fall in love with the protagonist of the film, in a type of courtship that finds its erotic impulses exclusively in the cinematic gaze.