Rear Window Timelapse

Film takes time and space apart, only to rebuild them on screen. In order to coherently represent the fragments of spatial reality that the camera captures, filmmakers rely on a broad set of rules and conventions. The continuity style, the 180° rule: these concepts help filmmakers – and audiences – interpret the morsels of space on the movie screen as a real, consistent and orderly three-dimensional space.


Alfred Hitchcock was a master at dissecting space and then reassembling it in the editing process. In his video installation Rear Window Timelapse, artist Jeff Desom does the opposite: he starts from Hitchcock’s film universe and rebuilds the courtyard around which all the action in Rear Window takes place. The result is a twenty minute video that is meant to be seen as a multiscreen projection. Desom makes it sound easier then it probably was:


“I dissected all of Hitchcock’s Rear Window and stitched it back together in After Effects. I stabilized all the shots with camera movement in them. Since everything was filmed from pretty much the same angle I was able to match them into a single panoramic view of the entire backyard without any greater distortions.”




This act of artistic reconstruction reveals the rigidity of Hitchcock’s modus operandi. Indeed, most shots must have been taken from the same camera position, since the perspective in Desom’s composite image is very consistent. This of course is in line with the whole concept of Rear Window: the spectator is bound to the point of view of James Stewart’s character, who is himself wheelchair-bound.


Hitchcock steers our eyes by his selection of frame size and by using optical trickery (the telescopic lens on Stewart’s camera). Desom uses another strategy to direct our gaze: he employs a digitally created racking of the focus. These different choices put, if you want, Hitchcock’s and Desom’s versions on opposing sides in that eternal struggle within the art of film: the believers in editing as the basis of film versus the proponents of the long take.