Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960) is playing November 5 - December 5, 2017 on MUBI in the United States as part of the series Powell & Pressburger: Together and Apart.
Two films forever changed the careers of friends Michael Powell and Alfred Hitchcock. They were Peeping Tom and Psycho, respectively. Both films were violent, voyeuristic stories about a serial killer. Both came out in 1960, yet one destroyed the career of one director, while the other was his crowning achievement.
Psycho was a worldwide phenomenon that challenged the idea of the narrative structure of movies. It wrote a new page in film history, with its dialogue, music, and characters rising front and center in our collective consciousness. The shower scene was Hitchcock’s signature moment. At the time, it was equal in impact to the infamous Lumières film of the arriving train, causing physical distress and panic in the viewers.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, Powell’s film almost killed his career. Released a few months earlier, it is said that the critical backlash was responsible for Hitchcock changing the release strategy of Psycho. Ironically, Peeping Tom can be seen as the most Hitchcockian film by Powell.
We were fascinated by the parallels between these two films and the similarities between the two heroes. In Psycho Tom, we explored the idea of a fraternal bond between Norman Bates and Mark Lewis, as if they were long lost brothers. One raised by the mother, the other by the father, both traumatized in their formative years. They are alone now, but their parents still haunt them beyond the grave—metaphorically and literally.
Mark and Norman inherited large houses from their parents. The inheritance also included a good education, shyness, sexual repression, and an incapacity for handling the opposite sex.
They look as virginal as the glasses of milk they offer the women in their lives, whom they love to include in their unusual hobbies. They feel an urge to spy on other people, invade their privacy. They are voyeurs, which makes both of them, well, peeping toms.
The films depart stylistically, structurally and thematically in many ways. However, we believe this video essay makes a good case that Mark Lewis and Norman Bates were not so different after all. We hoped to express this weird feeling that both men belong together, always watching each other.