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dwatts
03-22-2004, 09:14 PM
Huh, I did a search of this site, and there's never been a thread on Peeping Tom!

Well, we can correct that pretty quickly. Peeping Tom is a film I have read a lot about over the years. Most of what I have read has been positive criticism, which is in marked contrast to the reason people were writing about it, which was past negative criticism.

Directed by Michael Powell, this film is considered to have basically ruined his career. Salvaged by the likes of Martin Scorsese, the film has survived, and now could be said to have a strong cult following.

What's the storyline? Well, like all good films, there are several layers in this film that need to be peeled back. On the surface we have the story of a young man, tormented by his brilliant scientific father for all his childhood years, driven insane as he takes up his father's obsessions after his death. The obsession was a search for fear. How best to instill fear, that to film the death throes of an unsuspecting victim?

The saying goes that "love conquers all", and in the end it is love that finally ends the career of the lead here. It's a simple story, but it doesn't begin and end with the plot.

Why did this film create such controversy? Looking back from the stance of today, it really is hard to see what the fuss was about. At the time it was made, 1959, it clearly struck a nerve that made many feel uncomfortable. That the film was blasted by critics, and sold off to the lowest bidder, tells us all we need to know about what contemporaries thought of it at the time.

Perhaps is the dark foreboding that permeates every frame of the film? Despite rich colors, and well lit scenes, everything in it feels dirty, unclean. The lead performance is excellent, as Carl Boehm never lets up from his intense performance. The quickness at which his world falls apart once a woman works her way into his life, adequately displays how fragile he really is.

Or maybe it's the fact that basically, Mark Lewis, the central character, is making snuff movies. Long before talk of snuff movies was to make video nasty history, Peeping Tom was covering the topic with abandon. Mark films his victims as he kills them, and then goes back to view the footage at home, splicing in investigative footage taken the next day, after the bodies are found. There is an irony that, fast forward almost 50 years, there are people like me with home theater systems doing exactly what Mark is doing in this film - sitting in the dark, watching horror films.

If there are some areas where this film might disappoint, then those that insist on pigeonholing every film might well be to blame. Considered a classic British horror film, I wonder if that category really applies. Isn't this just another thriller, or murder film? What classifies it as horror? I don't know, as everyone seems to struggle with defining horror cinema. However, as a horror film, it doesn't have any of the required blood and gore, it's not gothic in the traditional sense (as was common at the time), and all the murders end up taking place off screen.

It should also be mentioned that the film has not aged well. The cameras Mark uses are laughably old. The shops, fashions, and location shooting is all antiquated and age the film far more than the story or performances do. Of course, one could argue that it actually makes this film even more difficult to watch. It's an odd world that somehow doesn?t seem quite real, how could it be with all this antique furniture?

The strange soundtrack doesn't make this any easier to watch, either. The music is more sounds really, with an almost total lack of melody.

Peeping Tom is one of those films that, if you're a fan of horror, you just have to seek out. Along with the likes of Salo, Cannibal Holocaust, and I Spit on Your Grave, it's a film many write about, and you want to see, even if it's only once. I'm not at all saying it's like any of those films, but if you do any reading about the history of the horror film, undoubtedly you will stumble upon mention of this film, and its effect on the career of the Director.

I watched the R2 Studio Canal version of this film. Shown in 1.78:1 anamorphic, the print isn?t perfect, but it is more than adequate. Criterion have also given this one the treatment, I can only assume their version is stellar. My copy is bare bones, with no extras of note (filmography and a single photo album of around 8 pictures).

I guess the thing I am left with after watching this film, is that I don't really feel a need to watch it again. That has nothing to do with whether I think it is a good film or not, rather it says something about the oppressiveness of the work. By hiding the gore and killings, and simply showing us this man going about his job, and then making snuff movies on the side, it's all too real in a way. You obviously don't associate with the guy, but on the other hand, you don't hate him either. His single obsession, to continue in the footsteps of his father, is overwhelmingly depressing and dark. I don't know when, or if, this one will hit my player again.

On the other hand, it is a film I am glad to own. I am glad to have had a chance to see it in a nice print, with its rich colors and spooky atmosphere. Perhaps the next time someone comes around, sees it on my shelf and says,
'Man, I've always wanted to see that", I'll put it on. In the mean time, I think the lead here might well have spooked me. In making such a repressive film, Powell succeeded, but at the same time he made something people won?t enjoy watching. Such is the frustration for some artists, I suppose.

marioscido
03-23-2004, 07:36 AM
One of the masterpieces of the horror genre - and cinema more generally! A film that prefigured psychoanalytic feminist criticism years before the explosion of this discourse in the late-60 and 70s. Of course, it was perceived as offensive and perverted upon its release - and it ruined Powell's career. I have the Criterion dvd and its looks brilliant. Also, the commentary track by (early psychoanalytic) feminist film scholar, Laura Mulvey, is not to be missed. It is an important film that should be in every dvd collection. This is a film about filmmaking and about the dangers inherent in the (voyeuristic) craft. I know of no other film that interrogates the filmmaking craft as profoundly as this film. Brilliant and disturbing. More Hithcockian than Hitchcock.

dwatts
03-23-2004, 11:47 AM
--One of the masterpieces of the horror genre--

I have trouble with this. Why is it "horror" and not simply a "thriller" or a "murder" story? I'm not saying it's one way or the other, just why do you consider it horror?

My disc is bare bones, so no commentary. Still, how many times have you watched it? I'd have to brace myself for a second viewing. Not because of gore (there's actually no blood in it!) but because of it's oppressiveness.

Paff
03-23-2004, 06:05 PM
My disc is bare bones, so no commentary. Still, how many times have you watched it? I'd have to brace myself for a second viewing. Not because of gore (there's actually no blood in it!) but because of it's oppressiveness.

Oh, you really want the Criterion disc then, with all the commentary, essays, etc

marioscido
03-23-2004, 06:11 PM
Yes, I agree entirely about its oppressiveness. That's a very apt word to describe the texture and mood of the film. I think it should be considered 'horror,' because of its underlying theme of voyeurism. 'Horror' has always been about 'seeing,' about the gaze: seeing the monster, not seeing the threat around the corner, seeing violence, seeing the unseen, about eye trauma... And 'Peeping Tom' is about the violence of this gaze. In my mind, it is also more horror than thriller, because it depicts the monster (a serial killer) in both a horrifying and sympathetic light - like the Frankenstein monster for example. The thriller is about uncovering a shadowy or masked killer. Here, we are with Mark the whole time, following his every move, as we do with Frank Zito in 'Maniac.' 'Peeping Tom' is entirely from Mark's pov. Thrillers are not. But then again, there are many thrillers that cross over into horror ('Psycho') and many horror films that are thrillers (the giallo and slasher subgenres). But 'Peeping Tom' is pure horror; it depicts the workings of the oppressive and intrusive gaze, the cinematic gaze, the monstrous gaze, and especially the patriarchal gaze. This is the cloth from which horror is cut.

Ash28M
03-23-2004, 07:47 PM
I would certainly have no problem considering Peeping Tom to be a horror, I don't mean to go off topic but To me Horror Thrillers and Mysteries are all in the same ballpark.
for example Hard Core Porn and Soft Core Porn one may be a little more graphic but it's all still all porn. The way i look at it if someone's life is endangered, that wasn't looking for it in the first place i.e war movie, gangster movie then that bring it into the horror "ballpark" and deserves to be recognized by the genre.

That's just my opinion anyway.

MaxRenn
03-24-2004, 05:41 AM
I have not seen "Peeping Tom" for a long time but I would not hesitate in calling it one of the greatest horror movies. I'm not really that concerned with labelling films as horror or not but to me "Peeping Tom" is a true horror film because its subject matter and themes deal with aspects of human behavior that we would rather not face up to honestly. I mean aspects of human behavior that are within all of us - in this case, the desire to look and not to turn away. Whether it be TV news, car accidents, reality TV, movies etc. "Peeping Tom" is one of those films whose atmosphere has stayed with me. It is oppressive and offputting and I'm not that anxious to see it again. I sense that that was one of Powell's aims. There are not many other films that affect me like that - I can only think of "Funny Games" and "Henry", both of which share the same theme of voyeurism.

dwatts
03-24-2004, 05:59 AM
--There are not many other films that affect me like that - I can only think of "Funny Games" and "Henry", both of which share the same theme of voyeurism.--

Is the voyeurism the reason? Sort of being uncomfortable "watching me, watching you"? In this case, the film is more easily able to put you in the film, and therefore into the mind of the madman.

It's right to say that Mark, in the film, isn't really unlikable. He's shy, was tortured as a child, and then relives that torture every night by watching and rewatching films made by his father. Who is going to forget the scene where a lizard is thrown onto the bed? Yet, of coruse, he has the unfortunate habit of killing women.

I have not seen Henry in years. I remember it too being a film that induced a strangely depressing feeling after watching it - as though you can't escape it even once it's finished.

I'd love the Criterion of the disc, for sure. Won't be buying it soon though. As I stated earlier, I admire what the film did, but I'm in mo rush to revisit it. Frankly, I was a bit depressed once it was over. It'll be a while until I'm ready to do that to myself again. Subsequent viewings might well give me a better understanding of the mechanics of the film though.

marioscido
03-24-2004, 08:57 AM
There are not many other films that affect me like that - I can only think of "Funny Games" and "Henry", both of which share the same theme of voyeurism.

I entirely agree about 'Henry.' I put 'Henry,' 'Maniac,' and 'Peeping Tom' in the same category. Not slashers, not gialli, not thrillers... They are all very depressing and quite difficult to sit through because they are unhesitatingly focused on tortured violent men. But tell me Max, what is 'Funny Games'?

MaxRenn
03-25-2004, 02:49 AM
Is the voyeurism the reason? Sort of being uncomfortable "watching me, watching you"? In this case, the film is more easily able to put you in the film, and therefore into the mind of the madman.


I have seen many films and read many books that try to put me "in the mind of a madman", some more successful than others. Maybe this one works so well on me because I'm a private person. :lol:



I have not seen Henry in years. I remember it too being a film that induced a strangely depressing feeling after watching it - as though you can't escape it even once it's finished.


Completely agree. Most depressing film I've ever seen.


I entirely agree about 'Henry.' I put 'Henry,' 'Maniac,' and 'Peeping Tom' in the same category. Not slashers, not gialli, not thrillers... They are all very depressing and quite difficult to sit through because they are unhesitatingly focused on tortured violent men. But tell me Max, what is 'Funny Games'?

I'm not that impressed by "Maniac". "Funny Games" is, superficially, a story of two intruders terrorizing a family. It is really about the motives of someone watching such a film (or indeed any violent film). The film includes a couple of clever devices to remind the viewer that they are watching a movie and to question why. It is directed by Michael Haneke whose recent film "The Piano Teacher" is also very hard to watch. Here's an earlier thread on it:

http://horrordvds.com/vb3forum/showthread.php?t=10696

MaxRenn
03-25-2004, 04:35 AM
"The Piano Teacher" is an excellent movie - Isabelle Huppert is a great actress. I think that "Funny Games" is supposed to make you "appalled" and "ill". The question is why don't other films with such "personal" violence leave us in a similar state?

marioscido
03-25-2004, 06:41 AM
I'm not that impressed by "Maniac". "Funny Games" is, superficially, a story of two intruders terrorizing a family.

I am impressed with 'Maniac's' unrelentingly grim perspective. It is far from a masterpiece, but you have to admit that there are very few films like it. Like 'Peeping Tom,' I am also fascinated by the moral panic it created upon its release. While they are similar in perspective, 'Peeping Tom' and 'Maniac' are also in two different camps - the former depicts exploitation, the latter embodies it.

I have not seen any films by Michael Haneke, but now I'm curious.

dwatts
06-18-2005, 02:20 AM
UPDATE: I bought the Criterion disc :)

I just wanted you all to know the extras are great. There isn't a traditional commentary at all, it's an "Essay" instead. It runs the length of the movie, but it's basically a critic reading her thoughts and ideas. Fascinating though.

As for the print..... if you don't care about extras then breath a sigh of relief. Not only is it the same print, I'd swear it was the same TRANSFER. So you gain nothing there.

ps: The R2 claims to be 1.78:1. Criterion 1.66:1. I could tell no difference.

KR~!
06-18-2005, 03:22 AM
BTW, there will be a new version of Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer on DVD.
To be release on September 27, 2005 with tons of extras.