Peeping Tom (1960) Directed by Michael Powell

There is a stark lesson to be learned from Peeping Tom. In 2010, stark conservatism is prevalent, it's in the air, especially in the arts. You have to dig deeper to find statements that cause you to think, that question the way we look at things or feel. Peeping Tom is a psychological horror film on one level. It deals with voyeurism and child abuse. It looks at our relationship with sexual imagery. It's also a film about cinema. It's very dark and nasty in attitude, it mixes innocence with dreamlike imagery and crudeness with cruelty. In 1960 (and maybe even in 2010),  its themes were too much for public and critics alike. The film disappeared. The picture became a cult of seediness, one you must see. A myth surrounded the picture. Peeping Tom ruined Powell's career. This is a shame in itself, Powell, along with Emeric Pressburger made some of the greatest films I've ever seen : The Red Shoes, The Life & Death Of Colonel Blimp, A Matter Of Life & Death, Black Narcissus.

Powell's world was always luridly colorful, and this is especially the case with Peeping Tom. This is not some realistic world, although the film deals with adult themes, Powell is presenting us with something that looks artificial. Mark (Carl Boehm) is addicted to filming everything he sees. This obsession with the camera (and with cinema itself?) is combined with a need for Mark to gauge how people react to fear. The obsession turns to murder as Mark captures the fear on his victims face on camera before he murders them. The plot is rudimentary. Hitchcock lurks in the shadows of Peeping Tom, even though his own later picture,  Frenzy owes a lot to this film.

Eventually Peeping Tom was rediscovered in the late 70's (mainly down to Martin Scorsese's enthusiasm for the picture). It's now heralded as one of the greatest British films ever. Too late for Powell, his career remained in limbo. It's too simplistic to call this a horror picture, there is so much more on offer. In our safe, self satisfied lives, we need to be shaken, woken up. Peeping Tom is an alarm clock going off in the head. It's not a comfortable awakening, but it is essential.

Peeping Tom was much better than Blow-Up.
Even though it is perfectly stylized, Peeping Tom has a juicy story to tell and enough rounded characters who come alive. This is cinema transforming reality, whereas Blow-Up was so wanting to capture a reality it seemed frozen.

Something happens to me when I  am photographed or captured on film. If I am aware of it happening my relationship to that moment changes. I know that something of me will be frozen forever to that situation. It is a loss of control, a shedding of me, a surrendering to never actually seeing me. If the person 'shooting' me wants to, it is very easy to make me feel awful, even frightened. The power is in the eyes behind the camera lens.

Much of the mundane everyday human life constitutes of actions that require privacy. Or at least they necessitate a sense of being unwatched. City life could be defined by the close proximity to others accompanied by a contract of ignoring this continual closeness.

A peeping tom breaks these unannounced contracts and intrudes into every room, moment and movement of people. In the movie, Mark has inherited his illness from his father (who used to film his son's life every moment as a scientific study). A victim who has never known privacy and therefore has not had a chance to own and construct himself, has no other option than to objectify others through his camera lens.

I wonder if the upcoming Facebook movie will ponder on any of these themes. In my opinion Facebook works in two ways: it provides the illusion that we are defining our image and what we give out (thus gaining control back to the object), while at the same time it makes us all peeping toms.


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