Rear Window is, in my book, Hitchcock’s best film. It hooks you in immediately, trapped in the same sense of voyeuristic helplessness as Jimmy Stewart’s wheelchair-bound character who finds himself the witness to a murder in his own backyard.
It’s also a film that draws much of its suspense from limited perspective–shots cropped by a telephoto lens, tiny snippets of isolated characters going about their days. So what would happen if someone came in and showed us the whole scene at once? How would the story change?
Powered by After Effects and the patience of Job, Jeff Desom recut (and reshaped) Rear Window into one giant panorama. It’s shocking enough that Hitchcock shot the film in such a manner to make this reassembly possible. But crazier still, Desom’s product works out to be a 20-minute loop that plays out completely logically.
“I was asked by a local (Luxembourg) venue to create a projection that could be looped on a very wide screen,” Desom tells Co.Design. “The view from my flat at the time seemed way too obvious. But there was something about the red orange brick buildings that reminded me of Rear Window. I set down and watched the old classic again. I noticed that the point-of-view camera never changed position. Not even in the slightest, except for when they find the dead dog. Before too long my thoughts were racing.”
It was a moment of inspiration that would prove punishing to actualize. While technically possible, that made the process no less simple. “I did a rough assembly to see if all the pieces to construct the set were there. Except for a few corners, the original camera had scanned pretty much the entire structure. Using stills from the original footage, I Photoshopped a deserted panorama for each daytime, twilight, and nighttime. That was the easy part,” he writes.
Once his proof-of-concept was complete, Desom had to map an intersecting storyline for each of Rear Window’s characters that appeared in the POV clips. Then he had to, not just fit those clips into his diorama–what amounted to hundreds of layers of content–but stabilize each and every one, coaxing the handheld telephoto footage into a collaborative locked-down view. The scale was epic.
“Originally it is a large scale projection with every character acting in real-time and in the chronology of the film,” he explains. “Unlike the ultra-short version that you’ve seen online, everything is in focus and the camera doesn’t move. Because it so large, you can sit through the whole 20 minutes over and over and you still won’t see the end of it.”
Given copyright restrictions, it’s unlikely that we’ll ever have the opportunity to watch the full version, let alone the full version projected in gargantuan proportions. But could you imagine if Hollywood started digging through its treasure trove of classics, not just to rerelease them in 3-D, but to use modern technologies to give us a whole new perspective on the film? And looking beyond After Effects, what if you stuck the Unreal Engine behind Casablanca, or Woody Allen’s Manhattan could be as explorable as GTAIV?
It’s an idea that could drive Hitchcock mad with paradox. He was notoriously methodological in his directorial style, to the extent that he argued a story’s presentation was more important than content. On one hand, Rear Window is Hitchcock’s vision. On the other, now it’s also just content for another visionary of technique to consider. Even so, Desom isn’t taking too much credit for the final product he created:
“Most importantly, these altered works remind us of the greatness of the original and their creator,” writes Desom. “They might even serve as a way of introduction. At the very best, someone who’s never seen Rear Window, puts it at the top of his must-watch-list after seeing the remix.”