Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Monday 3 June 2013

Life, the Universe and Curtains

There are many unanswered questions in the world, but sometimes it's the trivial ones that are the most annoying.

In the film I was watching last night, six fugitives had escaped from an embassy under siege and were hiding from the authorities and hostile locals. In a tense scene, they sat round discussing their perilous situation.

But I couldn't concentrate, because a small part of me was screaming at them, "Why don't you shut the curtains?"

The house was in the middle of a city and it was dark outside, yet the heavy drapes were open, leaving the full-length window screened only by net curtains; the occupants of the lit room would have been clearly visible to anyone looking in.

Film after film and in every American TV series it's the same thing. However great the need for privacy, no matter who or what might be lurking outside, no-one thinks to draw the curtains, 

Did anyone else wonder why, when the child in 'Poltergeist' is scared by the tree outside his window, it doesn't seem to occur to anyone that closing the curtains would help? Or why so many film characters leave their bedroom curtains wide open despite having been stalked or accosted on the way home?

I thought this must be a cinematic convention, leaving the way open for external shots of the house interior and its occupants, until a friend moved to the USA and discovered that the 'drapes' in her new city centre home would not close, and neither did anyone else's in the large apartment complex.

So why should this be? Does it hark back to the Puritans and a suggestion that God-fearing folk should have nothing to hide? After all, if Hollywood is anything to go by, the only people  in the USA who have the curtains closed are spies, serial killers and vampires.

Perhaps it stems from the tradition of the great outdoors. Legend has it that Daniel Boone looked out of his log cabin one day and saw the smoke from another chimney in the distance; he immediately declared his valley too crowded and moved on. Presumably wilderness heroes didn't have to worry about people looking in.

Of course, that sort of attitude is fine if your nearest neighbour is several miles away but rather less so in a ranch-style suburban duplex. And, while it's tempting to see a high-rise apartment as an invisible eyrie, it might be as well for the occupants to bear in mind the invention of the telescope.

Or could it possibly be that, given the impossibility of seeing out through the window of a lit room after dark, the Americans have simply decided that, if you can't see it, the outside world doesn't exist?


  1. I don't have curtains. It adds that certain other-worldly ambience at night, [besides being on an upper floor]. Makes it easier to find the loo too.

  2. A few years ago we had a custom-made wrought iron curtain rail made - it wasn't cheap.

    The guy installed it and it had sharp right-angle bends in it where it went around the bay window - no chance of any kind of curtain runner negotiating these corners.

    We got him back in and pointed out the problem.

    "Oh, you want to shut them do you?" was his response...

  3. Um. The bedrooms? Besides that how do they sleep on a long summer night?

  4. I suspect you of a certain ascetic minimalism, JH; I bet they don't have curtains on Mount Athos either.

    Still, not having them at all makes more sense than spending a fortune on 'dressing the window' with fabric that will not actually move to cover the glass - or on curtain fittings that don't let you move them. WY, how did you resolve the situation?

    Demetrius, 'Um' indeed! When this question first bothered me, I though back to 'Rear Window' and wondered whether it is all an unintended consequence of Hitchcock's imagination; his films and their imitators showed so many (usually) blondes undressing in lit windows and pulling the curtains closed at the last minute that people began to think it was normal to do so.

    There's much more on the subject from a largely US viewpoint at this 'Straight Dope' discussion...

  5. Oh how I dream of going to Mount Athos, singing Ferry cross the Ouranoupoli.

  6. Macheath, the guy re-made the thing (at his cost) with smooth wide-radius curves and now it works fine.

    But I bet he didn't make anything ont he job.

    Hardly our problem imho.


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