XL Popcorn – Peeping Tom

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 608/1007
Title: Peeping Tom
Director: Michael Powell
Year: 1960
Country: UK

I love it when a banned film comes up on this list. To think that a film that was banned in certain countries (in Finland, for example, it was banned until 1981) now has a 15 rating for the DVD in the UK. It has a rating of 12 in the Netherlands… and I don’t know how to feel about that.

As a film lover it is really hard to go cold into Peeping Tom. The central concept and some of the scenes have featured in so many programmes and books that I went into this film pretty much knowing what to expect. What I did NOT know was that it was directed by Michael Powell.

Thanks to this list I have become a bit of a Michael Powell fan. Films like A Matter of Life and Death,  Black Narcissus and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp rank among my favourite films of all time. However, since these three all see Powell sharing credit with Emeric Pressburger I was interested in how much I would enjoy a solo effort.

The word ‘enjoy’ isn’t one that I feel applies to a film like Peeping Tom. ‘Intrigued’ and ‘disturbed’ would probably make more sense for the story of an emotionally-disturbed man making a documentary about the look of fear on a person’s face before they die. Oh and he’s killing them himself and filming their reaction, there’s that big bit.

The set up of the film in general is pretty unsettling, and the final sequence just tips it over into the end into extremely creepy. And yet, why was this banned? So many of the contemporary unleashed streams of vitriol of this film and… now it’s a 15 and viewed by many as one of the best British films ever made.

Were we so incredibly repressed back in 1960 that a film like this would be greeted as something you wouldn’t piss on if it was on fire? Then again it is this repression that Peeping Tom and the incredibly  off-kilter performance by Carl Boehm takes aim at. Sometimes we need to be that bit uncomfortable as that means the art we are ingesting has pressed on a nerve that we deny exists.

To be fair, the big sexual liberation of the 1960s had yet to happen. Many of the critics were likely unhappy to stick their necks out for something daring. Even if it meant practically ending the career of one of Britain’s best directors.


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