Sunday, December 15, 2013

Movie Review: "Peeping Tom" (1960)

Film is often a gateway to other worlds, but can also be reflections of our own world just as often. So what happens when a movie dissects the world of cinema? You often get some of the most imaginative and insightful films of their time.

“Sunset Boulevard” is not only the story of an aging film star who wants one last chance to reclaim what she lost, but is also documenting the tragedy of the ever evolving art of film and what happens to those who get left behind. It paints a picture of cinema that makes it grand and supernatural, but also bleak and unforgiving. 

While other works, such as “Rear Window” don’t directly address filmmaking, but do make more than one allusion to cinema. For example, the act of voyeurism, spying of the lives of other people without knowing it, is essentially what every movies does. The audience takes an inactive part in the story as we watch events unfold, while the characters remain non-the-wiser, much like the main character in the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock classic. 

“Peeping Tom” seems to find a middle ground somewhere between these two works of cinema-reflection. It takes the time to discuss the dangers of voyeurism and its relation to movies, while also analyzing the psychological affect that filmmaking has on a tortured soul. It is what makes “Peeping Tom” standout above any other movie I’ve seen.

Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) seems like any other guy, as he works for a British film studio as an assistant cameraman. He lives in a comfortable apartment complex, which belonged to his deceased father, surrounded by charming roommates. He spends most of his free time working on a film, which he claims is a documentary that is nearly finished. 

Yet under the surface of that character lies a man so dedicated to his craft that he will go to whatever lengths necessary to complete his work. Even if it means taking the lives of a few unsuspecting women. 

What immediately comes to mind about “Peeping Tom” is how it feels so much like an Alfred Hitchcock movie, taking elements from several of the master of suspenses’ best known works, like the normal-looking but psychologically tortured man from “Psycho” to how voyeurism can become more than just a hobby and turn into an obsession from “Rear Window.”

However, it doesn’t come off like the filmmakers are doing this deliberately and make it their own thing. This is done mostly through the actions of the protagonist. Mark may seem like a madman, and he even admits it at one point, but there is a method to the madness. He knows that what he does is wrong, and even hates to do it, but has a strong compulsion to continue doing it anyway.

Without giving too much away, let’s just say there is a strong similarity between Mark and the mother obsessed Norman Bates, except that Mark feels his accomplishments are a benefit to society. 

While I feel rather silly comparing “Peeping Tom” to “Psycho” since they both came out in the same year, the two works just have so much in common. However, I will concede that both movies go about their horrific ideals in wildly different manners. What drives “Psycho” is the unnerving and relentless atmosphere, how unsettling the Bates Motel can really be, and is driven home by continuous plot-twists to intrigued the audience further. While the focus of “Peeping Tom” lies squarely on Mark’s shoulders and his journey to complete a task that he has spent most of his life working on.

For this reason, “Peeping Tom” is very much a character study. How does film affect children? Would it change who they are and who they grow up to be? Would they even be able to tell the difference between reality and cinema? Or would they want to bring more of cinema qualities into reality? 

These are just some of the questions raised during “Peeping Tom” which turns it into an intense psychological horror film unlike anything I’ve seen. As Mark gets closer and closer to his goal, you almost want to root for him and can even understand him, even if he is committing terrible crimes. It works at giving the audience a character who is relatable yet off-putting, while presenting some unique ideas of what film should or shouldn’t do. 

Final Grade: A-

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