Friday, July 12, 2013

The Hunger Sculpture in Hitchcock's "Rear Window" (1954)


I've surprised myself for the last couple months. I've written over fifty posts about some of my favorite movies, even some by my favorite director, Hitchcock, but I have yet (until today, that is) written about my all time favorite film. Obviously, if you can read the title, you know that it is the undisputed Hitchcock masterpiece, Rear Window (Paramount, 1954). And during my self-proclaimed "Month of Hitchcock," I feel I'm ready to write about a very small, certain aspect of Rear Window. It will probably not be the last you hear from me about the subject.

Perhaps my love of Rear Window is one of my less original film preferences, even cliche, if you will. But I don't care: I'll love this movie until the day I die. Just listing the people involved and it's clear why this film has endured as it has. Grace Kelly (Pure Beauty). James Stewart. Thelma Ritter (the perfect comic relief, in one of her best roles). Raymond Burr. Edith Head. And of course, the man himself, Alfred Hitchcock, who I believe is at his finest in the film. This film, to paraphrase the opinions of scores of critics before me, is the quintessential Hitchcock: It has its moments of sophistication, of humor, of romance and most of all, suspense.
Hitch and his co-stars, on the unparalleled set of Rear Window
But this is a film/art blog, so I can't allow myself to just ramble on, as I do, about Rear Window. That just wouldn't be fair, and more importantly, it wouldn't be original. So, I'm going to concentrate on a piece of art that appears in the film for a few brief moments. It is a piece that I believe has significant symbolic importance, which I am now going to elaborate on.
(L to R): Lisa (Grace Kelly), Stella (Thelma Ritter) and camera-toting Jeff (James Stewart)

One of the neighbors that Jeff (Stewart) watches while he is immobile is a middle-aged, female sculptor he nicknames "Miss Hearing Aid" because, well, she has a hearing aid. I also thought, when I first watched it, that it might be a jab at the piece she's sculpting, but I don't know that to be true. Later on in the film, the audience (and apparently Jeff) discovers that Miss Hearing Aid's sculptor is no mere listening device, it's an abstract sculpture titled "Hunger." Which makes some sense, I guess. With a little imagination, the piece becomes an abstract body with a gaping hole in the center, which I guess would be the empty stomach.
"What's that supposed to be, ma'am?"
"It's called Hunger!"

That explanation may have sufficed the first time I saw Rear Window, but after a while, when I started saying the lines along with the actors and analyzing the film in comparison with Hitch's other work, I got to thinking about more abstract concepts related to hunger. Sure, to the simple mind, hunger can refer to a mere desire for food. But on a deeper level, people hunger for human interaction, for love, for connections. And that particular idea sounded more in line with the film.

In Rear Window, Jeff is watching a lot of single people, even lonely people, none more lonely than the so-called "Miss Lonelyhearts" of the apartment. As the film progresses, you realize that a lot of these people are unsatisfied with their lives, even desperately unhappy. The dancer, "Miss Torso" yens for her boyfriend who's in the army. "Miss Lonelyhearts" almost attempts suicide after multiple rejections. And of course, Thorwald kills his nagging wife, in the ultimate act of desperation, albeit an evil one. All these people hunger for a deeper human interaction with others. But, until the end of the film at least, most of them are lost in a cycle of loneliness and ennui. Even the seemingly perfect Lisa (Grace Kelly), hungers for a more permanent, stable relationship with Jeff.
The entire "Greenwich Village" apartment complex was built on the Paramount lot 

So when you think about it that way, or at least when I think about it, the "Hunger" statue is perfectly in line with the film. It fits this theme of loneliness, of deep longings for human interaction. Sure, the title is only introduced in a passing line, but that subtlety is something that Hitchcock would have loved, don't you think?
"Miss Hearing Aid" (Fax), hard at work on  "Hunger"

I searched high and low for who sculpted "Hunger" but I was unable to find it. It's very likely some member of the art department at Paramount put together this very quickly and that the piece was chucked after production. I mean, let's be clear, it's nothing that incredible. But still, it would have been nice to know. Of note, the actress who plays "Miss Hearing Aid" was a certain Jesslyn Fax, who may have faded into obscurity after this film, for all I know.

So I'll conclude my post on Rear Window, with a certain acknowledgment. Maybe, I over-analyzed "Hunger" just so that I could have a Rear Window post. Maybe. Maybe, Hitchcock didn't intend to have such meaning in this merely passing piece. Maybe. Maybe, the "Hunger" title was merely coincidence, and it had nothing to do with the desires for deeper human connections that many of the characters feel. Maybe. But than again, maybe not.

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