Reviews of Peeping Tom
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One doesn’t merely watch Peeing Tom; one watches oneself watch Peeping Tom. Such is the phenomenal Brechtian reach of this complex film that one can hardly think about it without placing themselves squarely in the context of its milieu. On the surface may be a thriller with a pathological twist, but deeper down is a jet black study on the psychology of cinema itself, the darkly intrinsic human impulses that make recording and observing the moving image so irresistible. With a shockingly neon-hued, surgically composed mise-en-scène and an unending focus on that most magical and possessive of devices, the camera, Powell’s film is the consummate metaphor for the frighteningly intimate, subconscious allure of watching and making movies. The desire to imprison fleeting moments; the cathartic vicariousness of seeing and living inside captured images; and the attempt to take the most challenging and inscrutable of emotions and transform them into expressionistic mirrors to our souls, Peeping Tom holds up that mirror in front of us, and then we watch ourselves squirm.
Il parait que c’est le film qui a détruit la carrière cinématographique de Powell. Il faut dire qu’à l’époque, le spectateur s’était arrêté justement à ce côté voyeur et malsain, et plus grave encore, au bout de sein que l’on voit à l’écran, une première dans une production britannique.
Pourtant, Le voyeur est une oeuvre remarquable sur ce fond, entre mise en abyme du personnage et du cinéma, du voyeurisme des gens et des cinéastes, Powell propose une remarquable réflexion sur le sujet. Les gens sont-ils voyeurs quand on va au cinéma? Car bien plus qu’à son personnage, ce titre nous est adressé. Etonnant hommage aussi au muet où l’oeuvre semble être une prolongation entre le genre silencieux et le parlé.
Incroyable Karlheinz Böhm qui est totalement envoûtant dans son rôle.
Quelques petits défauts toutefois avec parfois l’une ou l’autre séquence trop longuette (notamment la préparation de la doublure qui se met à danser, ça m’a un peu pompé).
L’oeuvre aborde aussi un côté fort psychologique entre un fils qui prolonge les travaux de son père sur la peur. Une tare qu’il a acquise à cause de toutes les expériences que son père a réalisé sur lui. Un homme qui est en proie aux maux du passé, qui ne l’ont jamais quitté et qui n’a jamais pu trouver une paix intérieure.
Bref, c’est un film qui vole (très) haut.
- Currently 4.0/5 Stars.
The Criterion Collection has always been at the forefront of delivering the general masses with contemporary classics for years now. Some may question the selection process and a few mainstream hits being graced with the askew ‘C’, but I do believe they should be given the benefit of the doubt. When it comes to Michael Powell’s psychological horror film Peeping Tom, I do think they have chosen a piece of work that, while it may not be great cinema, is important to the history of cinema. While watching it today, I’ll admit to not being overly frightened or tense by what was occurring. However, the fact that it was made in 1960 really does put the camera tricks and subject matter in context. Jack Valenti didn’t take over the MPAA until 1966, ushering in a new period of leniency for ratings with American films. Hollywood had to worry about language when it released Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? that same year, yet in Britain, Powell was crafting a taut film about voyeurism, depicting a woman’s murder through the first person lens of the audience, half a decade earlier.
It all begins quite chillingly with our lead character Mark Lewis finding a ‘lady of the night’ standing alone in front of a display window on the street. He turns on his camera, hidden within his coat, and follows her to her room, where she assumes she’ll be performing two quid worth of pleasure. Instead we watch as she leads him, following her ourselves just as Mark does, peering through the lens of his camera. We as an audience become the voyeur, helpless to make our own decisions and helpless to stop the malicious deed to come. Unknowing what the film’s villain is doing to elicit the absolute face of fear in front of us, catching just a glimpse of a shining light, we must watch as the screen gets closer and closer to her until fading to black. Talk about an effective way to get you invested in the story at hand, not only do we discover who the murderer is—the film’s lead role of Mark—we also become a part of the crime right from the get-go. The journey then becomes one of finding out what has made him the monster he is, as well as whether or not he will strike again or get caught.
I don’t want to nitpick or belittle the achievement of this film, but it does need to be said that it isn’t necessarily the most professional job put to celluloid. While the writing is pretty well honed into showing us exactly what it is we need to know without cluttering the proceedings with unnecessary fluff, some of the lines and events are rather broad and obvious. It could be that the writing is just fine and perhaps it’s the over-the-top acting that causes it all to be so heightened in emotion and expression, though. Karlheinz Böhm gives us his best Peter Lorre impression, switching back and forth from intelligent homicidal maniac to frightened, bug-eyed simpleton looking as though he’d be afraid of his own shadow. His reaction shots are very overdone, but the way he transitions from giddy boy with a crush to serious collector of fear on film unveils a real example of craft. There is also his young love interest and downstairs neighbor Helen Stephens played by Anna Massey. She portrays the curious innocent with a bit less subtlety than desired, but I do think the acting style on screen here is a product of its time, amateurish because I am looking back half a decade in time. Even her mother, Maxine Audley, is creepier and more mysterious in her blindness, with a sixth sense for danger, than realism would ever allow.
The story itself delves into the psychological and biological workings of the human mind. We soon discover facts about Mark’s childhood with his scientist father experimenting on him, finding the true face of fear, something more pure the younger you are. A voyeur himself, the deceased patriarch had literally filmed almost every second of his son’s life, even manufacturing events to cause nightmares and fright, studying the reaction and consoling him with a friendly pat on the back when the scare had ended. Seeing a light reflect off this boy’s head in the old home videos recalls the same glare on Mark’s victims today, lending the final reveal of its source to be that much more chilling, leading us to believe his sick, twisted documentary is an extension of those studies from the past. Each character is a pawn in Mark‘s mild-mannered and shy existence, all just a role for him to film and manipulate as they serve their purpose in his charade. Only when he feels a true emotional connection to one is he able to temper his lust for a distorted scream. The draw of that fear is too over-powering to resist, though, causing him to not be able to film Helen, not wanting to risk this love that had always been absent.
As a whole, Peeping Tom does do its job at drawing the audience in for the ride. The story itself progresses nicely and reaches its logical conclusion without any twists and turns, playing out like it should without a need to pull the wool over our eyes. This is made possible because of Powell’s choice in filming a lot of it through the camera itself. I have to imagine that Michael Haneke had seen this film, instilling the desire to make his audience implicit in what they are watching. Leo Marks’s script is about a voyeur on the hunt for fear, able to cross that line and draw blood for his art. It is the ability to force those that watch into becoming voyeurs themselves that makes the movie so ahead of its time. By continuing to watch, we prove our own longing to see what one feels at the end, to let that pain and total panic wash over us. I feel that this is just a continuation of the progression to make the viewer more than just an observer.
I spoke of Peter Lorre earlier and it is his star turn in M that precedes this. There we had the villain become the character we follow and eventually relate to. That premise evolves here to the point where we see the killer partake in murder through his eyes, trapped by the director’s vantage point, unable to look away. Kathryn Bigelow expanded upon it once again thirty-five years later with Strange Days, utilizing the same camera tricks, only this time making us become the killer through virtual reality. I guess the only logical next step is to have those VR machines become non-fiction—snuff films ready to be experienced for recreation. I just hope that when it gets to that point, I might have the self-control to decline. I wouldn’t mind homicidal maniacs taking the plunge though, as opting out of doing the crime in reality for fiction could make the world a better place … unless it just ends up feeding their bloodlust more.
Peeping Tom 7/10
- Currently 3.0/5 Stars.
Witness the film that destroyed Michael Powell’s career (but was later restored)!. Powell presents a dangerous film about voyeurism and deceit, and he hits the mark dead on.
Mark Lewis is a voyeur, which some people refer to as a peeping tom. By definition a peeping tom is, “a person who gets sexual pleasure from secretly watching people undressing or engaging in sexual activity.” Powell puts a twist on this old saying: instead of deriving sexual pleasure, Mark Lewis is instead getting a purely cinematic sensation. Instead of watching people undress or have sex, Mark takes his film camera and murders people with one pointed end of his tripod, while a mounted mirror on the camera shows the victim the expression of horror they have on their face. Mark is searching, endlessly, to find the perfect film, one where he can direct the carnage and record the perfect expression of fear.
As a child Mark was used as a lab experiment of sorts for his psychologist father. Instead of being put inside a bubble and having wires resting on his head Mark was subjected to having his father drop lizards on his bed while he slept, and forced to watch people make out in a park, while his father recorded everything. On his father’s departure for his honey moon, he gives a young Mark a film camera of his own, and thus he grows into the man that he is today.
It can be said that Powell is making an allegory here to the art of making films. Like many directors, Mark has to constantly re-shoot his footage, never happy with what he has. There is always something wrong, whether it is the lighting or the “actress” herself. Lewis is lost in his own little world where he believes that he has the power that a major film director has. And here is where the film crosses over into real life. The director has the power to make the people inside his film laugh, cry, or even die. He can be unhappy with how they go about this (a great instance being when the director that Mark is working for keeps yelling at his actress who isn’t fainting properly). Filmmakers use a camera to infiltrate their characters lives, and we, the audience, are left to sit inside a dark theater room watching these people that we do not know. We may come to know and understand them as characters, but we don’t actually know them per say, we are merely peering in on their lives.
It’s an interesting theme for a film, with enough subtext to create hours of debate over filmmaking and voyeurism. Film critic Roger Ebert and director Martin Scorsese have some very interesting things to say about this film, and I recommend that people interested in this movie also look up their writings.
- Currently 4.0/5 Stars.
This is not a cheap film that is very typical horror slasher film with bad actors. It’s a lot more then that. It’s a new look to what can be very regular.It’s a change. You can get lost in the character’s reasons and actions. You seem to have sympathy for him, and you can understand why he kills and how he became a killer. He has two sides of him, his first layer is that he is clam and a loner, quiet, sweet and nice looking. The second (more deeper) layer is his obsession with fear and cameras. The whole idea with the capture of fear… that actual object of proof. It all comes to the point that you are just drawn to know more of the character and story of the picture.
It’s only a film but a damn good film!
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.
This is disturbing and compelling film, tame by current standards, but very cutting edge for its day. It makes clear from the opening credits that those watching and making films are voyeurs. The psychological suspense as we are sympathetic with, and horrified by, the twisted protagonist creates tension in the viewer. Powell constructed this film superbly and subtly, and it’s a shame he was reviled for such an excellent piece of work.
- Currently 4.0/5 Stars.
Originally slaughtered in Britain, during the 60’s, and banned by the BBFC- Peeping Tom caused widespread controversy and became a film which was rarely seen. Peeping Tom is also a film which has inspired many directors; Brian De Palma, Francais For Coppola and Martin Scorsese.
Peeping Tom was brought back to the cinemas in the 1980’s. During the filming of Raging Bull, Scorsese using his own money, got the film in the New York Film Festival and subsequently got it re-released. The film inspired Scorsese and I noticed bits of this film in Mean Streets, Taxi Driver and various other Scorsese films
This film is one unique piece of film-making. I mean you need to fully understand the film by putting it in context with the historical context in which it was made. It was incredibly shocking at that time and I certainly felt that as I watched it today. The cutting between scenes all blended perfectly well together with symbolism at many points. The usage of SUPERB close-up shots to emphasise to fear that the women were going through. I really can’t tell you how truly great a film this is. So perfectly well made.
- Currently 5.0/5 Stars.