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  Peeping Tom I Am A Camera
Year: 1960
Director: Michael Powell
Stars: Karlheinz Böhm, Moira Shearer, Anna Massey, Maxine Audley, Brenda Bruce, Miles Malleson, Esmond Knight, Martin Miller, Michael Goodliffe, Jack Watson, Shirley Anne Field, Pamela Green, Nigel Davenport
Genre: Horror, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Mark Lewis (Karlheinz Böhm) takes his camera and goes on the prowl one night, eventually settling on a prostitute who tells him it'll be two quid, so he follows her up the stairs to her room, all the time filming. Once they reach the room and close the door, the prostitute begins to undress, but Mark isn't interested in sex, he's more interested in watching his film of the event once he returns home. And what's so special about this, a self-confessed act of voyeurism? It's mainly the way he has actually filmed her death, a murder he has committed, and all because he wants to capture the perfect moment of terror with his camera for a documentary he is making that will undoubtedly never see the light of day. But that's OK, Mark's obsession is purely for his own self-gratification...

Michael Powell pretty much ended his career in Britain with this lurid horror, such was the violently negative reaction to its shameless examination of a psychopathic mind, complete with young women murdered and, perhaps most controversially, the killer being a sympathetic, soft-spoken young man who we know from the start is the killer. The film was scripted by Leo Marks, a heroic wartime codebreaker who turned to writing plays and movies, but you can tell his themes were entirely embraced by Powell, which is interesting because they hardly show filmmakers, never mind audiences, in a flattering light.

As it happens, Mark has a day job as a focus puller in a film studio, but perhaps more revealing is his sideline as a photographer of under the counter pictures that gentlemen may enjoy, all sold by his local newsagent while he snaps the girls upstairs. The main model is Milly, played by possibly the first British sexploitation star Pamela Green, who made her name in the nudist films that enterprising men in the lower echelons of the movie business used to portray undressed women on UK screens for the first time. She even has a none-too-clear nude scene in this, but if Powell is coy about depicting the sexual element visually, he makes it plain in other ways.

Weirdly, although he has a pronounced German accent, Mark has supposedly lived in the same English house for his whole life, so it's not apparent where picked that up. That said, Böhm's (billed as Carl Boehm) quiet tones fit the character, who is the victim of his late father's research, as we understand when he allows Helen (Anna Massey), the woman who lives downstairs with her blind mother, to see the footage that was shot of Mark when he was a child. The experiments are involved with fear, and seem to take the form of scaring the little boy and recording the results, so in a strong sense he is carrying on his father's work, only taking it to terrible extremes.

He has a chance at redemption through Helen, but by the end we see that Mark is a hopeless case, which was made obvious by the opening murder, the tragedy running straight through the plot. Although we are encouraged to feel sorry for him, Böhm infuses the protagonist with a nervy creepiness that allows the viewer to pull back from what they are witnessing so we never have sympathy with his crimes. What are Marks and Powell saying about films? That the act of watching is a violation by the watcher on the watched? If so, what does this make filmmakers? There's a certain self-loathing in the approach that, just as you do with Mark, puts you at a distance from the events and conclusions drawn: the act of watching, whether it's films, television or Internet, has become such a huge part of modern life that it really depends on what you are seeing that defines the relationship, after all, a lot of people want to be observed; and more wish to observe. Yet a miniscule few wish to harm, never mind kill, thereby deflating the message of Peeping Tom. Music by Brian Easdale.

[Optimum's Region 2 Special Edition is a must for fans, with an introduction from one of the film's greatest champions, Martin Scorsese, two documentaries, an interview with Thelma Schoonmaker, a trailer, and a critic's commentary.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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