Peeping Tom

Screening on Film
Directed by Michael Powell.
With Karlheinz Böhm, Anna Massey, Moira Shearer.
UK, 1960, 35mm, color, 101 min.
Print source: Rialto Pictures

Michael Powell, well known and beloved in the UK for his Technicolor masterpieces Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes and Tales of Hoffman (all of which he co-directed with Emeric Pressburger), effectively ended his promising career with 1960’s Peeping Tom.  Although also a Technicolor delight, the storyline of Peeping Tom disgusted the British press and proved to be so controversial that the film was re-edited to the point of nonsense for its US release in 1962, leaving Powell’s reputation in ruins.  Not until 1979, through the efforts of cinephile Martin Scorsese, was the American movie-going public able to see the film in its entirety.

A beautiful and unsettling psychological horror film, Peeping Tom follows an unassuming young man who works as a focus puller in a movie studio.  Shooting his own 16mm film at home, he records death and horror for his own perverse enjoyment. Voyeurism, sexual perversion, and extreme violence move the plot, and the act of watching implicates the film’s audience, which perhaps explains the dramatic reaction by the press in 1960 (several months before the release of the far tamer Psycho). Full of satisfyingly accurate details of both professional and amateur filmmaking, the film includes Powell himself, playing the role of the antihero's father. 

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