Monday 2 December 2013

Peeping Tom [1960]

British critics were so appalled, reviled and shocked by Peeping Tom that it nearly destroyed the career of Michael Powell of the celebrated Powell- Pressburger duo – such was the devastating power of its theme and content. The Hitchcockian film was an audacious, disturbing and challenging examination of perversion, voyeurism and sexual fetishism, and like Rear Window, provided powerful self-reflexive commentary on the medium of cinema and the act of watching movies. Mark Lewis (Karl-Heinz Boehm), the film’s shy young loner protagonist who works in the movie industry and takes photographs for a pornographic magazine in the evenings, is the titular ‘Peeping Tom’. He also indulges in a grotesque obsession – that of filming people with his 16mm camera while in the act of killing them and leaving a trail of inexplicable murders in the process, and then secretly getting high on them in his personal studio. His life, however, takes an unanticipated turn when he starts falling for his sweet-natured tenant Helen (Anna Massey) whose blind mother develops an increasingly bad feeling about him. Powell, in a fascinating decision, sympathetically portrayed this scarred and sociopathic sexual deviant but an otherwise likeable character whose moral compass is way outside the margins of socially accepted behavior – the fact that his deceased father (played by Powell himself) used him as a ‘live’ guinea pig when he was a kid for his experimentation on the reaction of human psychosis to fear, added deeply poignant undercurrents to his grisly addiction. Boehm gave an astonishingly effective turn, while the superb photography, which made terrific use of expressionistic angles, flamboyant colours and POV shots, made this an even more darkly memorable and visceral experience.

Director: Michael Powell
Genre: Thriller/Psychological Thriller
Language: English
Country: UK


Sam Juliano said...

Yes, a landmark film and rightly considered a masterwork by many. Controversial back in the day, but re-viewings always yield something new. Superb review Shubhajit!

Shubhajit said...

Thanks a lot Sam. One could really make a fine list of films which were thoroughly dismissed upon their release, only to be elevated to the status of masterpiece eventually. History sure has a way of correcting itself.