Why You Must See 1960’s Peeping Tom!

Scopophilia

[skoh-puhfil-ee-uh]

 noun, Psychiatry.

  1. the obtaining of sexual pleasure by looking at nude bodies, erotic photographs, etc.

Synonym

1.Voyeurism

Cinephile and scopophilia, the line between the two may not be so discriminately defined. In Roger Ebert’s own review of this film, he said that “The movies make us into voyeurs” as we all stare at the silver screen watching some else live their life.We may derive a different kind of pleasure from it but in a sense aren’t all us moviegoers just a little scopophilic?

In Michael Powell’s “Peeping Tom”, Mark Lewis(Carl Boehm) is a serial killer who records the terror of his victims as he murders them. (Spoilers: Not only does he record these murders but he forces his victims to watch their final moments as his bladed pierces their flesh by holding a mirror to them.) Camera’s are appropriately the focus of this film and as such the camera work within the film is visually interesting. The camera is rarely static and tracking shots explore the scene as the camera dances through a room. The colored version of this film reminds me of a painting almost. Seeing as though the film emphasis is on what we can see it’s fitting that the film’s musical scoring is reminiscent of a silent film. 

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Lights! Camera! Action! :: A Documentary of Terror

As the camera follows him we learn that this scopophilic serial killer is a photographer with a side job taking pictures for a magazine store and later discover that his day job is at a Film Production Studio where he works as a Focus puller for a project titled “The Walls Are Closing In.” In a film about looking it makes sense that the camera is the center of our main character’s life.

Even his relationship with his neighbor Helen Stephens (Anna Massey) begins due to this attachment to the lens. Upon meeting one another we and Helen learn what has caused our main character to become such a pitiful monster as he shows Helen the documentary of his childhood. Mark’s now deceased father was a Psychiatrist studying fear in children and used his own child as a lab rat. Throughout his life Mark was constantly under the scrutiny of the camera; his privacy sold at the cost of scientific discovery. Archived are films of Mark being recorded in his sleep. In some recordings, his sleep is disturbed by his father shining a flashlight into his eyes and other time his father so kindly drops live lizards on the boy to frighten him. This trama is the reason that Mark associates fear, pain, and life itself with filmmaking(and why he is compelled to complete his father’s “documentary.”)

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Serial Killer Romance

Despite Mark’s wounded nature Helen becomes intrigued with him and Mark is interested in her as well. The awkward chemistry between Boehm’s and Massey’s characters feels authentic and is actually heartwarming despite our awareness of Mark’s issues. While her daughter Helen might be smitten with Mark, Mrs. Stephens (Maxine Audley) knows better than to trust him.

Mrs.Stephens:

I don’t trust a man who walks quietly  

Helen:

He’s shy

Mrs.Stephens:

His footsteps aren’t, they’re stealthy

Information is delivered very organically like how Mrs. Stephens blindness is implied before it is finally revealed in her encounter with Marc. For a while it is assumed that Helen’s mother has a ‘sixth sense’ and we are only given clues about her mother’s condition.  

Although this film is defined as a slasher film it certainly doesn’t feel like one. The film is masterfully crafted and places its emphasis on characters rather than nonsensical violence. The characters in the story are fully developed and we as the audience learn about them so organically that you find yourself sympathizing with each of them and even caring about the villain of the story. As with all slasher films we all known that the insane murders reign of terror must come to a  tragic end. While our main character might have been a serial killer, the film spends so much of its focus on him that he is humanized. In the end, the humanity that is given to our ‘Peeping Tom’ makes his final moments so poignant that it is certain to bring you to tears.

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