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Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Peeping Tom (1960)

Karlheinz Böhm's is stuck in an auto-erotic Freudian cinematographic nightmare, traipsing around a grimy London with a wind-up Bell and Howell 16mm in an effort to understand his father's perversions. Various prostitutes and movie starlets with six-inch waists fall victim to his murderous studies until he finds a chance of redemption in a dainty redheaded children's librarian with a Tiresias-like mother, the only character to recognize that her daughter's beau is actually a nutcase.

It's all allegorical, and none too subtle, a commentary on the relationship between cinema and its audience. By implicating the cinema-goer in Böhm's crimes, director Michael Powell inspired self-loathing in his viewers, thereby dynamiting his own career (so the story goes). Because of this unprecedented rulebreaking, Roger Ebert puts Peeping Tom on his list of 'Great Movies,' while Martin Scorsese, Powell's greatest modern supporter, believes that it shows everything that can be shown about directing. But I don't see it. There's too much of the voyeuristic misogyny of Hitchcock here (similar in many ways, Psycho was released only a few months later).

At least the library, shown for all of three seconds, is interesting. In reality a concrete secondary modern school next to crumbling tower blocks in a rundown part of north London, it is an eyesore. The heroine never speaks of it. She wants to be an author, reminding us that for many librarians, their job is just a job, and that much of librarianship can be pedestrian and dull. Libraries can also places that, contrary to Borges' association between libraries and paradise, one might sometimes dream of escaping from.

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