Friday, January 8, 2010

Peeping Tom

My experience of Peeping Tom was rather cobbled together. First, I waited for the DVD from the library for so long, I forgot that I had ordered it. Then, when it finally arrived, the DVD was so damaged, I couldn't even watch it all the way through. (It stalled, quite suspiciously, right before the one nude scene in the film.) However, I managed to finish it by streaming in on with limited commercial interruption! With much travail, I saw something approximating the entire thing. I didn't dare to screen-cap it, though. So I'm making do with borrowed images.

On the Criterion DVD there is a featurette entitled "A Very British Psycho," which is quite apt, at least in its reference to Hitchcock. Actually, Peeping Tom reminded me just as much of Rear Window, with the camera's obvious parallel to the phallus (in PT, there is a lot of sensual caressing of the lens), as well as the self-reflexivity. Technically, Jeff of Rear Window is much more of a peeping tom than Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm). Like Rear Window, the film calls attention to the audiences' own voyeurism. Like Psycho, the film revolves around a serial killer whose homicidal tendencies derive from deep psychological trauma. In the case of Mark, this is a result of having been the guinea pig in his father's experiments.

Because of the camera's constant presence in the frame, it is practically another character in the film. It is a sexual object, too; but more than anything, it is a weapon. When we see what Mark is filming, we see his subjects in the cross hairs of the viewfinder, as if he is training a rifle on them. Of course, the camera is also the primary instrument in his murders. Through his murders, Mark attempts to capture the perfect expression of terror. As it turns out, he does this by training a mirror on them, forcing them to watch their own deaths. Mark inverts his own "morbid urge to gaze" by forcing his victims to watch themselves.

This is all the more disturbing, as the camera is, as his lover, Helen (Anna Massey) suggests, an extra limb. Guess which one? The penetration of sharp spear that provides the quietus suggests another kind of penetration.

While there are a lot of interesting philosophical facets in this film, I simply found it a joy to watch, much like Black Narcissus. Black Narcissus is a better film, I think, but the playfulness of certain scenes is reminiscent to its predecessor. The budding relationship between Mark and Helen is heart-wrenching, as is the scene where the hopeful actress, Vivian (Moira Shearer) does a lengthy warm up dance number, not knowing that it will be her last.

As it turns out, Helen's mother is blind. The overtness of this narrative ploy is one that I could live without, in some ways. Naturally, this handicap has provided her with other heightened forms of perception. When Mark comes home to find her lurking in the darkness, she remarks that the blind live in the rooms they live under. From the softness of his footsteps, she infers that he is troubled. For some reason, Mark turns his camera on her, and to no one's surprise, it doesn't work, because she cannot see herself. Still, she is terrified of being filmed, perhaps because she cannot return the gaze.

Images are from the awesomely prolific Criterion Contraption, which is also linked on the sidebar. Also, Images Journal.

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