Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Movie Review: Peeping Tom

The Criterion Collection line of DVDs has become a figure of adoration for film enthusiasts everywhere for many years now. The series, which actually begun on laserdisc, remasters and releases culturally relevant and significant films for the general public. While some of the choices have been met with some level of controversy (look, I enjoyed The Rock, Armageddon, and The Life Aquatic, but I would certainly not deem them "culturally significant"), for the most part it has allowed films that would otherwise be largely unseen to find a mass audience.

The classic British thriller Peeping Tom is a valid example of an important film that has been given the honor of the Criterion treatment. The film, which was directed by British legend Michael Powell, tells the story of a mad camera operator who seeks to film the last moments of the lives of individuals by killing them as he operates his camera. The film developed a wildly notorious reputation in Britain for its disturbing subject matter, and it is often credited for destroying director Powell's career. Yet, like so many great films, the film's influence and importance has grown with time. Unlike most horror films, the plot of this film was strikingly complex and unique, and proved to stand as more intriguing than your standard horror fare. The film was also successful in utilizing some very unique camera techniques to capture the eerie perspective of John Barrard's murderous filmmaker. The first person perspective shots in the film effectively evoke the idea that you are watching the action through the eyes of the murderer himself. It was likely this voyeuristic touch that alienated so many British viewers when it was first released; however, it is highly effective in this horror setting, and has since been emulated repeatedly (I would not be surprised if John Carpenter was inspired from this scene, as the opening shots of Halloween have a very similar style).

The legacy of a bold film like Peeping Tom is often not given the respect and admiration it has earned until enough time has passed to see its influence on other films. This has proven true for a number of American films; Citizen Kane was considered a failure upon its initial release, yet time has exalted the film and placed it at or near the pinnacle of filmmaking. Thanks to the Criterion Collection, we now have the opportunity to view films that were ahead of their time and reflect upon how they have successfully altered the landscape of film for today.

4 and a 1/2 out of 5 stars

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