Tuesday, February 7, 2012

PEEPING TOM (Michael Powell, 1960, UK)

Mark is subsumed by his monochrome pathology as his bright eyes becomes grim lenses, the convolutions of his confused brain tangled celluloid that captures the dying of the light as focus is pulled towards infinite darkness. He is a damaged child in a man’s body, victim of his father’s cruel psychological experiments to understand fear by causing it, to extract this noxious ether from Mark which traps the boy forever in this flammable element. 

Suffering from Scoptophilia, Mark is a photographer by hobby and 1st Assistant Camera by profession: he sees the world only through an objective lens and experiences relationships through the purring revolutions of a projector. He is distanced from reality by a morally reduced aperture, and murders women while filming them, which yields his zealous sadistic pleasure…but the light always fades too quickly. Director Michael Powell has ingeniously crafted a vicious thriller whose elements precede both Hitchcock’s PSYCHO and Antonioni’s BLOWUP, while PEEPING TOM unjustly remains relegated to cult status. 

Masterfully written by subverting cultural mores, the narrative concerns the very act of filmmaking…and film viewing: a subtle condemnation of the audience as participant in voyeuristic pleasure. Powell’s expert editing and mise-en-scene reveals Mark’s interior dialogue without the need for exposition: his ghostly shadow cast surreally upon his blank screen, his eyes seen through the spokes of a film reel, or the mimicry of his 24/fps reality all convey his deepening madness in a more terrifying way than the grisly murders. 

The film’s major flaw is actor Carl Boehm’s portrayal of Mark Lewis as too shy and backwards, a man whose humanity is isolated beyond a compassionate relationship with the audience: he is no cruel monster but lost in his own Idios Cosmos. Though a victim of childhood trauma like Norman Bates, there is nothing very likable about Mark Lewis and it’s difficult to believe in his minor romantic interest. Marks’ nightmares haunt him in black and white and this becomes his existence, while the world of color becomes a violent fantasy. 

Final Grade: (B)