Saturday, June 1, 2013

PEEPING TOM (1960) movie review

Peeping Tom (1960) d. Powell, Michael (UK)

Lovely apartment tenant Anna Massey strikes up a tentative romance with her landlord/neighbor Carl Boehm, a handsome but painfully shy cameraman, unaware of his murderous compulsions. Powell’s brilliant examination of voyeurism - and the innate human desire to look but not be seen looking - is a film about watching in a medium intended to be watched, not passively, but actively.

Having enjoyed a great deal of mainstream success throughout the 30s, 40s and 50s, particularly with his collaborations with Emric Pressburger, Powell understood audiences’ voyeuristic tendencies as one of the primary reasons behind our fascination with motion pictures. Observe the countless references to looking and seeing and watching – there is even a blind character that “sees” more than others.

Additionally, but perhaps most damaging, screenwriter Leo Marks offers up a psychopathic murderer as our protagonist, asking viewers to not only sympathize, but also identify with him (much as Hitchcock would the same year, albeit much more slyly, with Psycho).

Not surprisingly, 1960 audiences weren’t prepared for this kind of brazen, confrontational honesty, and the picture was not just shunned, but run out of town on a rail, and Powell's once-thriving career never fully recovered. For years, Peeping Tom lurked in the shadows, referenced by many, but seen by few. Happily, the film has been reappraised by a new generation of critics and audiences (and openly championed by Martin Scorsese), and now holds its rightful station as a cutting edge masterpiece.

Trivia: That is Powell himself playing young Mark's father in the home movie footage.

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