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🎬 #90 Adventures In Voyeurism.
Watching a film makes us all voyeurs of some description, we’re peeking into the lives of the protagonist and how they deal with various obstacles as they try to get to their goal.
It’s not the kind of get arrested voyeurism but some films play with the idea so effectively that makes us feel part of the action, implicit in the crime. They make us feel uncomfortable just sitting there, watching as an innocent viewer. This week’s two films put us right there, in the POV and mindset of a voyeur.
Happy choosing, happy viewing
FILM ONE: PEEPING TOM
1960 Dir Michael Powell
[1hrs 41 mins]
The controversy this film sparked can’t really be imagined these days. In fact it was so intense for the filmmaker that it essentially ended the career of Powell. One of the best filmmakers of his era, his partnership with Emeric Pressburger gave us many classics and yet with the stroke of one film it was all over. But thankfully, in the intervening years this film, has like many others, garnered more critical appeal. Many now look at it as a misunderstood masterpiece and it continues to appear on best film lists each year. Far ahead of its time, both this film and Psycho, released the same year, inspired the serial killer sub genre, and the slasher film more broadly.
The great thing about Powell’s approach is that he puts us with the killer from the opening scene. We occupy his obsession, see things solely from his perspective. Because his fetish of choice is capturing the deaths of the women he stalks via film camera, we are seeing though his lens, seeing the deaths as he sees them. Then as he develops and screens the film in his own private lab, we witness them all over again, now with the killer as fellow audience member.
As with many films that deal with voyeurism, the voyeur is a lonely, detached man. Unable to make any meaningful connections in his personal life, he delves further into his own fantasy world. This time we’re with Mark, a man who works on a film crew who aspires to make his own films one day.
For the time being though, he prefers to capture the final terrifying moments of a woman’s life on camera as he kills them with a weapon hidden in the camera’s tripod.
This film also predates the found footage style approach to narrative in its own way. The fact that the killer’s films make up a large part of the narrative that we see being made then rewatch again, put it in a unique position, especially for the period. The concept and the technique make it feel miles ahead of Psycho in terms of using the form in a unique, modern - meta way.
TL;DR Powell’s misunderstood masterpiece takes us closer to the mind of a voyeur, psychopath than the audience at the time were ready for.
*Available for a small rental fee on Amazon, Apple, Google and YouTube in the US and the UK.
Fact: This is one of Scorsese’s favourite films and his long-time editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, was married to Powell from 1984-1990.
FILM TWO: ONE HOUR PHOTO
2002 Dir Mark Romanek
This is an uneasy watch. Perhaps mainly because we can identify with the loneliness or isolation that Robin William’s, Sy, feels. And because Robins plays the role with a skewed version of his trademark warmth and charisma, we can’t help but be repulsed and feel sorry for him at the same time. His sole reason for being is his job at a one hour photo processing business - where he gets an intimate view into people’s lives not often seen by strangers, as he develops their images. This leads to a strange connection to one particular family, where he yearns to be a member.
Romance’s detached, cold camera work let us inhabit the film from Sy’s perspective. We are taken deeper into his obsession with the family he feels so connected to. Like the screenshot above, he’s trying to put himself into their lives through the secret duplicates of all the images he’s processed for them over the years. He’s literally trying to make them apart of his life by plastering them all over his walls. Observer and participant in one beautifully odd frame.
In the image above, potentially the creepiest selfie ever captured on film, Sy also attempts to become part of the family in his own way. By taking the last photo left on the film before he can develop it. He’s captured himself on the same film as the family and so becomes as close to them as he possibly can. Because he lacks the empathy to connect in the real life, he has to result to a celluloid one.
TL;DR Romanek’s venture into the mind of a lonely man makes us feel as uneasy as it does some kind of odd understanding of wanting to form a connection that lies, sadly, out of reach.
*Available for a small fee on Amazon, Apple, Google and YouTube in the US and the UK.
Fact: Trent Reznor scored the film but Romanek opted not to use any of the music, instead some of the tracks made it onto the Nine Inch Nail’s album Still.
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