Article: Chrysa Magginopoulou
Translation: Paraskevi Gkovari
Jeff, a single photographer, is in a plaster cast, with a broken leg, immobilized, almost handicapped. Contented in his passive state, he repels love and his relationship with Lisa, and also resists the advice of his protective and motherly nurse, to abandon his spectating activities and accept the woman that is right for him. Unconsciously, he prefers to remain blocked and sexually idle, and to, thus, enjoy unhindered his hobby: the observation of whatever happens in the building across, leaving his spectating urges unconstrained.
It is not incidental that the main character of the film is a photojournalist, that is, a person that has turned the peeking “through the keyhole” into a profession. For the professional of the image, the world has a meaning only up to the degree that it is a spectacle. Besides, Lisa has a profession primarily visual, as well: she is a model. Therefore, Lisa holds the other end point of the spectating procedure: her job is not to see, like her photojournalist friend does, but to be seen. Similarly, in the film there is another woman who practises a job essentially visual; she is a masseusenurse. She is the one who will later take specific initiatives for the demystification of a crime, which is only visually pointed out by the photojournalist.
These three main characters of the action are hemmed in a room because of the disability of the photojournalist, who broke his leg in a spectacular and dangerous photojournalistic mission. From the moment of the curtainup in the beginning of the film, the window of the room opens to an inner courtyard. There is no curtain, anymore, to block his vision, now he can be a proper spectator.
Behind every window there is a drama, a comedy or a farce. It is life in its endless dramatic diversity. By greedily observing the other, the hero takes lessons from the school of life that unfolds in front of his eyes. He gets himself into a process of projection and identification with the tenants from across, who have similar problems to him. Problems of love and marriage, problems of choice between the connubial and the solitary life. The couple of the newlyweds hastily lock themselves in their wedding room to enjoy their love, but after a while the husband gets tired. The spinster attempts suicide while a lonely bachelor wishes to have a relationship. However, the most important of all is the unhappy married couple, the whining and spatting of whom lead them to destruction: the murder of the wife by the husband.
Furthermore, the spectacle of the world involves crime, and it is hard for the witness of a crime to remain silent for long. In this case, the witnesses break their silence, not due to frustration, but because the spectacle has lured them so much that it is impossible to remain passive spectators anymore. From that point on begins the stage of adventure, of the pragmatic quest of truth and danger, which bring Jeff and Lisa closer. The socialite and sophisticated Lisa will take action, will abandon her pretentiousness and will demonstrate a practical spirit, courage and intelligence. Their common goal will unite them as a couple. The spectacle encourages action, but this action will lead again to inertia and immobility since, in the end, the hero will break the other leg as well.
From the beginning, along with the human, there was born the need to know what the others do if they are well, if they have problems, if they walk around naked in their houses, or if they sleep all day long and to judge them accordingly. This kind of curiosity has always existed everywhere. In the older times, it happened through the home yard. The ladies of the yard had, not only the right, but also the responsibility to spread the news, even if they got distorted and misinterpreted on the way. The baton passed on the graphic neighbourhood and the phrase “what will the neighbours say?”. Technology has made this habit easier and it has developed it completely because it has made it prestigious and laid the foundation for the creation of a profitable business.
The images that are being projected through the television and the magazines, the cinema and the internet, give pleasure to the greedy spectator and stimulate their most lowly instincts. The displaying images are about the personal lives of people and are, also, images of sex and violence. The entertaining exhibition of personal stories, usually with sexual or even pornographic content, reaches such a high level that causes an alarming confusion between the gossip and the news, the leeway and the social scene.
The keyhole can arouse the most discreditable human instincts, it can lead us to middlebrowism and conservatism, and it can nurture intolerance and bigotry. The willingness to entertain ourselves with the bedrooms of famous people, politicians or movie stars, with the videos of hidden cameras, with the online scoops, and the paparazzi snapshots, has become an obsession.
We enjoy obsessing over other people’s lives because it gives us the opportunity to idolize and live through them, situations that we cannot experience ourselves. Moreover, it lets us judge while boosting our ego, which differentiates itself from them, their behaviour and their everyday situations that do not coincide with our orderly life. Besides, looking is an act of choice and, as a result if this choice, what we see becomes a part of us. We never see one thing alone as it is, we always look at the relation between things and ourselves.
Debord, G. (1967) La société du spectacle. Paris: BuchetChastel.
Rancière, J. (2008) Le Spectateur émancipé. Paris: La Fabrique.