Peeping Tom (1960)

Peeping Tom (1960), directed by Michael Powell.

Famously controversial thriller, hated at the time but now more respected, especially by film theorists. Powell said it ruined his career.

A psycho photographs women as he murders them. He is building a film documentary of his life and includes the police investigation of the crimes and plans a big finish featuring his own death.

I first saw this about ten years ago and did not much like it. I revere Michael Powell, but it seemed like the student effort of a lesser director. I was outvoted about 20-to-1 when I expressed this opinion in public. The film is widely held to be a masterpiece.

I liked it a bit better this time, noticing more of the dark humor and little jokes Powell uses. The lampoon of the movie studio is obviously something close to his heart.

Good to see Moira Shearer again. And I always enjoy Anna Massey, just 23 here. She's not classically pretty, but always interesting. Sticking with the genre, she was prominent in Frenzy (1972) twelve years later. She's still working and has been doing old lady roles for a long time. (Later: Anna Massey, 1937--2011, daughter of Raymond Massey, 125 acting credits in the IMDB).

Maxine Audley is fine as the blind mother, always drinking but the only one who suspects our psycho. "The blind always live in the rooms they live under," she tells him; she's been listening to him moving around and guesses at his secrets.

And yet. It still doesn't work for me. Carl Boehm is rather one note: shy, hardworking, always obsessing about his fetishes. He doesn't care if he gets caught, so why should we? Apart from sympathy for his victims...

The music hammers the themes too hard.

It seems to be an intricate Freudian essay, but does that make it a good film? The plot apparatus required to support the design grows clumsy and finally terribly overblown in the last minutes. Other Powell films had heart and depth and sweep which I don't find here. It is often compared with Psycho (1960), which appeared about the same time, but as a thriller Hitchcock's film is much more satisfying.

Criterion DVD. Subtitle track but no control for it on the menu.

I endured the 1993 commentary track by film critic Laura Mulvey, specialist in Phallocentrism and Patriarchy. I'm not qualified to critique PoMoLitCrit studies and will only say it's not for me.