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I was nine or 10 when my parents took my sister Ruth and me to see Rear Window. We didn't usually get invitations to their movie dates, so we were thrilled.
I remember it being easy to insert myself into Hitchcock's world, which looked a lot like my own. In retrospect, it was quite an accomplishment that it felt real, because that world actually existed on an indoor set. I'm sure it took a lot of money to make it feel real, because it was the largest set Paramount Studios had ever built at up to that time. I heard it took 1,000 arc lights to get it bright enough to simulate sunshine for the daytime scenes.
Not only did that apartment complex in Rear Window look a little like our neighborhood, but my sister and I had a collection of doll houses fashioned out of shoe boxes that we grouped together with a center "courtyard" much like the one Jimmy Stewart's character L.B Jefferies saw out his window. A voyeur (a fancy term for nosy) even as a little girl, I liked the idea that my dolls could watch over each other and I could watch them. I felt a kindred spirit with Jimmy Stewart every time he picked up those binoculars to look in on his fellow apartment dwellers. Trust me; had we been able to afford binoculars and I could have watched without getting caught, I definitely would have used them L.B. Jefferies-style on our neighbors.
I also could relate to that apartment where Jefferies was incarcerated by a broken leg, because like him, we didn't have air conditioning. I still remember how hot I felt watching the movie, even though we were in an air-conditioned theater. When he wiped his sweat, so did I.
Although I was engrossed in both the visceral experience and the story, I have to admit I caught myself daydreaming more than once about having a wardrobe like Grace Kelly's character, Lisa Fremont. Few women were as elegant and well-proportioned as her, so even as a little girl I envied that her clothes fit her as if she were born right into them. (I guess I was aware of such things because my grandmother was a seamstress.)
The future Princess Grace wore the type of clothes I only saw in movies. At that young age, the closest thing we had to elegant fashions were the plain matching velvet dresses my grandmother made for my sister and me for Hanukkah. Although it would have never been discussed, I think my mother also felt a twinge of envy at Grace Kelly's wardrobe. This is an odd thing to remember, but I recall my mother touching the collar of her worn but serviceable dress more than once during the movie. Now that I'm a grown woman, I wonder if she wasn't just a little self-conscious of that lace collar that probably fell apart sometime after the next few washings.
But my memories of Rear Window's don't just center on fashion and temperature; I remember my sister and I actually sat on the edges of our seats, especially at the end. I think she even grabbed my hand at one point. Raymond Burr made a great bad guy, so I wasn't the only one who squirmed in my seat as Lisa tried to elude him.
"Be careful!," I remember saying over and over to Lisa and L.B., under my breath. My mother would have ordinarily chastised me for talking in the theater, but she was too wrapped up in her own reaction to even hear me. My father too was absorbed in the story. In this way, Rear Window was a family affair. We sat there, bound together in fear -- and the eventual triumph when we found out everything was all right at the end.
For almost two hours, Hitchcock held my family in the palm of his hand. Never mind that life outside the theater was less than perfect. For the time we were allowed to peer into that world, Rear Window was a roller coaster ride that I remember as pure magic. And it's great to see movies like Rear Window for sale on DVD, so now I can watch any old time I want!