4.25.2011

The face of fear


This week, my chronological project brings me to 1960 and to Michael Powell’s fascinating Peeping Tom, which is often considered as a sort of British cousin to Psycho, that year’s other thriller about a psychotic, sexually repressed loner-voyeur who murders beautiful women.  I don’t know that Peeping Tom can really be said to top Psycho, but it does introduce a meta-cinematic element that is less exhaustively and intricately worked over by Hitchcock’s film.  Simply put, Peeping Tom is a film theorist’s dream film, one that touches on so many dimensions of filmmaking and film viewing (voyeurism, spectacle, desire, violence, feminist theories of the gaze and the female image, psychoanalytic theories of the phallus and the Oedipal complex) that it seems to have been conceived by Laura Mulvey.  (And Mulvey fittingly recorded an illuminating commentary track for the film, which can be heard on the Criterion DVD.)  Frankly, my head is still spinning from this film.  But lest my description of the film’s academic appeal scare anyone away, I should add that this is also a remarkably entertaining and well-crafted film—beautifully directed, photographed, and designed, and laced with some choice black humor.  One would expect no less from the brilliant Powell, despite the absence here of his frequent collaborator Emeric Pressburger (together, the two made arguably the best British films of the 1940s, including The Red Shoes, A Matter of Life and Death, and my personal favorite Black Narcissus).        

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