Saturday, May 16, 2009

Peeping Tom

Peeping Tom; Thriller-drama, UK, 1960; D: Michael Powell, S: Karlheinz Böhm, Moira Shearer, Anna Massey, Maxine Audley

At first sight, Mike is an ordinary young lad. He is the landlord of a building, works as a cameraman in a film studio in the afternoon and as a photographer of erotic pictures in the evening. But he has strange urges. When he was a child, his father would scare him in the middle of the night and then film everything with his camera. Thus, Mike can excite himself only by looking at screaming women in fear, while he kills them with his knife and films them. His tenant Helen, who goes out on a date with him, doesn't know anything about those snuff films. When he kills an extra, the police follows his trace and surrounds his home. He kills himself with a knife, observing everything in the mirror.

Michael Powell directed many avant-garde films with his collaborative professional partner Pressburger, like "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp", yet "Peeping Tom" is his first sole directorial work, a daring portrait of perversion and sadism that almost seems as if it could have been made by Hitchcock. The film was a great polygon for a serious performance by Karlheinz Boehm (and a big departure from his kitsch serial "Sissi") whereas despite the aversion of the public during the premiere and controversies, the film has many fans even today, like Scorsese who named it as one of his favorite films that talk both about film making and the audience who watch these films. Despite some taboo breaking themes in the story, especially regarding snuff films and the implicit statement that protagonist Mike can only get sexually aroused by watching women dying on film, the sole psychology of the characters is rather thin which is why the thriller part functions much better. The opening sequence takes the form of the point-of-view of the camera worn by Mike who follows a prostitute to her apartment and then kills her there (though it is never explicitly shown). Still, Powell maintains the balance by mostly shaping the film as a straight-forward drama, not as a sensationalistic horror, also showing calm scenes of his love relationship with the curious Helen.


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