Introduction: A puzzle and a half

This dissertation uses Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (1960) as the vehicle for an exploration of spectatorship and particularly the psychic drives which are imbricated in cinema's "visual pleasures".

The germ of the idea for Powell and Marks' collaboration was to film a history of Freud [Powell 1992 p 392] and the final text retains strong psychoanalytical elements both in the surface narrative of the film and in its subtext. It is a profoundly polysemic text: a study of human psychology, a meditation upon the psychic processes which invest in and are mobilised by looking, a study of the process of film-making and of the central - but not necessarily "authorial" - role played by the director.

Early in the narrative the model Milly (Pamela Green) remarks of the film's anti-hero, Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm), that he is a "puzzle and a half" [0:10:05]. The same is true of the text in which she is situated. This text seeks to unlock some of the film's meanings and to show how its strategies are representative of the larger (some might say overarching) apparatus of cinema itself.

As is well known, Powell's film provoked extreme hostility and this text reviews the critical revulsion which greeted the film and suggests some explanations for it.

The task of analysing some of the visual pleasures and discontents of cinema, and the looks which are its underlying structure, is the subject of section II. Here are discussed ideas proposed by writers like Laura Mulvey and Kaja Silverman who approach cinema from a psychoanalytical perspective.

Section III shifts the focus slightly, looking for example at the film's representations of women. The film is examined through the lens of genre, specifically that of horror. It defies easy categorisation however with its parodic/ironic stance and reflexivity.

The text moves on in section IV to outline the tentative thesis that the film's "knowingness", in particular its exposure of the voyeuristic impulse, was an important reason why Peeping Tom was accorded so hostile a critical reception. Marks's and Powell's cardinal sin may have been to strip bare the apparatus mobilised in and by cinema.

In explaining the film's notoriety British cinema's long-standing devotion to realism and antipathy towards fantasy may be another explanatory factor.

In conclusion the story of the film's critical "rehabilitation" is outlined and some perspective is offered on its place within British cinema history.

Looking Voyeurism, scopophilia and other visual pleasures
Photographing me photographing you
What the critics saw
Appendix 1: Cast, credits and technical information
Appendix 2: Filmography and picture sources

Please send any comments or feedback to Derek Baldwin, the author.

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