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Peeping Tom

Peeping Tom (1960)

Visual storytelling genius Michael Powell teamed up with scripter Leo Marks to make this audacious film which predated Psycho by months and was lambasted by the British critics as a "sexual snuff" film at the time of its release. In fact, after making one more film in England, this film's notoriety basically exiled the Master to Australia. Today, many of those same critics call it a masterpiece, and whatever you think about it, it's one of the most original and bizarre flicks ever made. Peeping Tom almost ranks up there with The Red Shoes as Powell's most-all-encompassing fever dream. When I say fever, I mean that the entire film is embued with red lights and it undoubtedly inspired such directors as Mario Bava and Dario Argento in the use of their color pallette and their subjective camerawork.

The thing about this Powell movie which got him into so much trouble was that no matter how cinematic his images were, the critics only saw prostitutes, murder, sick-and-twisted father/son relationships, unhealthy preoccupation with sex and death, and here's the kicker: the fact that Powell himself played the twisted scientist father and had his own son play his son at an early age as a victim of his father's abuse. The psychological underpinnings of the main character's actions, which are far more developed than those of Norman Bates, didn't count for much for the lynch mob critical community, even though Hitch came along a few months later and made them come up with excuses for him. The problem is that no matter what Powell accomplished in his film, he didn't film the flourishes that Hitch did with a far-more unexplainable story (even though some "psychiatrist" tries to explain Norman's motivations at the end of Psycho). Norman Bates is a sympathetic character, but there's no way he's more sympathetic than Mark Lewis in Peeping Tom. Even so, it's quite an accomplishment for both Powell and Hitch to put out such films so close together in the prehistoric year of 1960. It's just sad that the proven genius Powell was turned into a pariah while the proven genius Hitchcock became a millionaire.