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Have you ever had this experience? Have you ever sat down with a book, a film, an album, what have you, that you’ve heard from time immemorial was a classic and thought…eh? Maybe you would have liked it if you had come to it cold, but it just couldn’t bear the weight of its own legacy.
I’ve always been a big Alfred Hitchcock fan. Vertigo is one of my favorite films of all time. The episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents entitled “Breakdown” is one of the most gripping 30 minutes of television I’ve ever seen (you can find it on Netflix or Amazon). While I’ve worked my way through most of the Hitchcock corpus, I had, until recently, somehow failed to make the time for Rear Window, considered one of the director’s all-time classics. Finding myself with some unexpected free time on a recent Sunday, I popped it up on Netflix. And, well…eh.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a solid film. The acting is stellar, confining the action primarily to Jimmy Stewart’s apartment was clever (it’s essentially the movie equivalent of a bottle episode), and there are some moments of genuine suspense. Overall, however, I came away underwhelmed. Without giving too much away (although, to be fair, the film is 60 years old, so a spoiler alert is an act of charity), the tension in the plot runs as follows: one of the main characters either did A or did B. In the end, it turns out he did B. Not exactly white-knuckle stuff.
Now, to be fair to the film, I probably would have had a much different reaction had I seen it in a cinema in 1954. In 2015, however, when thrillers go to baroque lengths to hide the ball on plot twists, Rear Window seemed almost pedestrian by comparison. Had it been some obscure little film, I probably would have delighted in it. As a movie that’s so deeply engrained in pop culture, however, that my first consciousness of it came through a childhood viewing of a Simpsons episode, it had a higher bar to clear.
And, honestly, that feels, at some level, like a disservice to the film. But there’s simply no way to decouple my reaction from the expectations created by decades worth of hype.
What “masterpieces” have you come to late, only to discover that your expectations were disappointed?