A study of Hitchcock's film "The rear window" on how we interpret social action

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In common sense knowledge, we usually take for granted that, with the appropriate evidence, we can understand the purposes and meanings of other people's actions. After all, social life is based on this possibility. At the same time, we know that the purposes of these actions are not always revealed to us, and we explain this limitation in terms of insufficient information. However these subjects are very complex and have been submitted to deep inquiries. Questions such as how we proceed when we try to understand other people's purposes?; what is the nature of evidence that we have about them?; what are the functions of observation and interpretation that make possible to understand them?; what are the limits and problems of our understanding? are not easy to answer. They state basic problems that are related to the debates on the scientific status of social sciences and to the discussions between qualitative and quantitative methods. Their answers influence many criteria for accepting or rejecting research papers and doctoral dissertations. The film The Rear Window offers an outstanding example for the study of the problems on how we understand social action. The reason for it is that, in this masterpiece of suspense, Hitchcock undertook an important experiment about the processes of interpreting visual images and stories. He imposed the following conditions: the scene is limited to a small room, where Jeff, a journal's photographer is recluded with a plastered broken leg, and to what he sees through out the window in the apartments around the backyard. The story time is bounded to a period of three days, in which the morning and night episodes are easily recognized. The story ties together two plots, which influence one another. The main plot is on what Jeff sees and how it leads him to guess and to be convinced that a neighbour has murdered his wife. The secondary plot is on the love relationships between Jeff and Lisa, which are in a difficult stage. The central aspect of Hitchcock's experiment is that, in a large number of shots, when Jeff is looking throughout the window, the camera takes his point of view in a way that the spectators see what he sees. Only in a relevant exception, we have more visual information than him. Moreover, as Jeff comments his suspitions with Lisa, a nurse and a police inspector, and he sustains them with arguments, we can follow his process of interpretation and compare it with our ideas. The analysis of this process will be a main part of this paper. For Hitchcock and for social scientists, a deep subject involved in the film is the distinction between perceptions and meanings. Lisa brilliantly states it in the following sentences: -Please Jeff, tell me every thing that you have seen and what you think it means. The Rear Window has been the object of a large number of commentaries and critical essays. We will emphasise the study presented by David Bordwell in his book ¿Narration in the Fiction Film¿ (1985), chapter 3, on -the activity of the observer-, final part, introduced with the heading -To see and to believe-. One of the main aims of this book is to show that the spectators are not passive recipients, who merely accumulate images of the film, but develop an important cognitive and affective activity for understanding the story. Bordwell analyses how Jeff, and the spectators with him, interpret what they see. His approach is based on the theory of perception that is offered by the cognitive psychology. It establishes that, when we see an object, we interpret the visual stimuli in accordance with our previous experience. These interpretations involve many forms of reasoning, which we are not usually aware of. In this paper we will follow many research ideas of Bordwell, to whom we are deeply indebted, and, at the same time, we will resituate the study of The Rear Window, introducing other research questions, conceptual frameworks and approaches.
Idioma originalAnglès
Estat de la publicacióPublicada - 19 de jul. 2003
Esdeveniment19th EGOS Colloquium -
Durada: 1 de març 200319 de jul. 2003


Conferència19th EGOS Colloquium


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