Saturday, October 24, 2015

Thirty Days of Short Reviews #24: Street View

Published as a double-sided flip accordion-style book, Pascal Rabate's Street View is certainly a triumph of form, if not content. Published by NBM, Street View is an unapologetic homage to Alfred Hitchcock's film Rear Window. That film was all about the voyeuristic tendencies of a thrill-seeking photographer confined to a wheelchair with a broken leg, and how the tight quarter's of his neighborhood's apartments made for interesting viewing. The way Hitchcock framed each apartment was not unlike a panel in a comic strip come to life, each with their own narrative attached to them. Rabate' removes the viewer-surrogate character and dials back on the murder-mystery aspect of the film. Instead, each narrative in the comic is of equal importance, as Rabate' wordlessly provides all sorts of clues as to what happens to each of the characters across time.

One side of the book is "Mornings" and the other side is "Evenings", and the pluralizations of these words provide clues on how to read the book. The "Mornings" side doesn't refer to a single day, but rather a series of mornings. And on the corresponding side, each "Evening" refers to a separate evening. There are all sorts of clues that set this up, from obvious ones like the first-floor bar getting repainted to slightly more subtle ones, like the escalation of a series of arguments between a man and a woman into murder and an attempted disposal of the body in a carpet on the street. The comic, in many respects, is less a standard narrative and more a series of interlocking puzzles that the reader must solve in order to see the story's big picture, such as it is.

Some of the story's flourishes are a little too cute for their own good, like the portly figure meant to resemble Hitchcock, or the woman who is watching a marathon of Hitchcock films. Rabate' imports many of the tableau's from Rear Window into this comic, from the lonely man considering suicide to the musician having a wild party. Of course, he's able to bring the sex front and center, as the wife of the bar's owner is fooling around with the musician when he's at work. There's a painter hard at work with his muse, a married couple with a perfect life that makes them oblivious to nearly everything else, and a laundromat that does some work carrying forward the plot. Most of these felt familiar to the point of cliche', though the one interesting exception was a family of three. It took the most work to discern what was going on in what seemed to be a happy setup, but Rabate' instead subtly depicts a marriage in crisis. The body language of the husband and wife is frequently strained and awkward, but the giveaway is a single panel where we see her with the musician in their apartment, semi-clad, while the husband and child are out for a walk. The final page of the book sees them standing as far apart from each other as possible, each looking out the window.

Rabate's work in this book is incredibly clever, like in one evening page where there's a blackout, or a morning page where the sun's glare is blinding. He plays around with wind in some panels and is always careful to account for each of his characters and what they're doing. His use of gesture and body language is masterful and goes a long way in helping to establish his narrative. While the characterizations are mostly on the surface in this book, Rabate' does establish that human connection is essential to thriving as a fully evolved being. What prevents the book from going deeper is Rabate's insistence that the reader know that this was all artifice ("a wordless play in ten scenes and one set") at all times, partly as a way to show off his incredible skill and clever use of imagery and partly as a way to remind the reader of his source material.

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