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.