Friday, February 6, 2009

Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960)

Nowadays, perversion is everywhere, permeating the culture like a pervasive rash. You can find it behind your local place of worship (the pointy building at the end of the most roads), flaunting itself out in the open in shopping malls, my nonexistent backyard every Thursday morning at the break of dawn (bring your own pantyhose), and even on the television dial. However, back in the early 1960s, you had to dig deep to find the appropriate nectar to properly satisfy your perverted needs. Meaning, you had to leave your place of residence to find discharge-based satisfaction. Voyeurism and photography were your best bets at attaining antisocial gratification back then, so it makes perfect sense that the lead character of Peeping Tom, Michael Powell's creepy ode to watching, would employ both to get his release. Now, the fact he's added murder to equation is what makes the film the uncomfortable joy that it is. Deep down, I admired what non-self-described film geek Mark Lewis (a chilling Karlhheinz Böhm) was up to in this film: finding away to meet all your debased needs while being creative at the same time. Only problem is, I'm not a fan of killing people, especially prostitutes.

Shot using point-of-view camera angles, sinister reds and blues, and featuring multiple scenes involving British women in lingerie, Michael Powell has created a rich character study about a man who has become obsessed with the fear of others. A wonderful back story fleshes out some of the causes of Mark's dementia (let's just say home movies were a big part of his childhood), the film is a stark portrayal of a man so consumed by celluloid, that he has managed to surround himself with cameras around the clock.

Salvation in the form of a cute downstairs neighbour is just what the figurative psychiatrist would have probably prescribed for Mark, but she comes along a little too late to stem the insanity. Bumping off hookers, movie extras (she was actually a stand-in), and models is one thing, Mark touching a hair on the neighbour's head is quite another. Seriously, if he dared mess with her in a sharp and pointy manner in any way, I would have lost it.

Played by the gorgeous Anna Massey, Helen the inquisitive neighbour was a frenzied delight to wallow in. Compassionate, intellectually curious, sociable, and coquettish to the point of an un-buttered crumpet, Anna is tremendous as the woman who tries to understand the weird guy upstairs with the German accent. Representing all the qualities that make Englishwomen in general so freaking lovable, the little redheaded pixie was charming and personable. These traits were prominently on display during Miss Massey's scenes with not only Karlheinz, but also Maxine Audley as Helen's perceptive mother. Anyway, she's a sunny character in an otherwise dark thriller. 



  1. I too enjoyed Peeping Tom. It's especially cool because it's hard to tell if it's an exploitation film or an art film. Maybe it's both.

  2. Hayden Panettiere?

    Pointy building? Hee. Actually, here in the South, you'd be surprised how many of them are square. One church down the road from us is rectangle.

    I have a friend who is a big Powell/Pressburger fan. However, she's also a big prude. So I think this one would be a little weird for her.

    Anna Massey was in one of my fave romantic dramas, Deja Vu.

  3. Cliff: Yeah, it is hard to tell. I mean, I know of many hardcore film snobs who hate exploitation, yet they seem to love Peeping Tom. Mildly weird.

    Karim: Hayden's so compact.

    The three nearest me are pointy. However, they have all had square additions added over the years. I guess square and rectangle are the shapes of the spiritual future.

    She's probably a big fan of The Red Shoes. Not to generalize, but most chicks dig that flick.

    Deja Vu, eh? I just watched Henry Jaglom act in a trippy film called Psych-Out from 1968.

  4. Well shit. I'd better drink all the liquor I've been saving for special occasions.

  5. It's remarkable what kind of observations Peeping Tom will inspire in some people. Yum-Yum: I suspect that the snobs cut the movie a break because it is "about" moviemaking in a way that allows them to elevate it above its surface content. Of course, if it hadn't been Michael Powell making the film, it might be held in no higher regard than DePalma's Raising Cain -- and for that matter, that film might never have been made.