Peeping Tom

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Synopsis

Having brought British cinema into exalted realms of fantasy and imagination, Michael Powell took a dark detour into obsession, voyeurism, and violence with this groundbreaking metacinematic investigation into the mechanics of fear. Armed with his killer camera, photographer and filmmaker Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) unleashes the traumas of his childhood by murdering women and recording their deaths—until he falls for his downstairs neighbor, and finds himself struggling against his dark compulsions. Received with revulsion upon its release only to be reclaimed as a masterpiece, the endlessly analyzed, still-shocking Peeping Tom dares viewers to confront their own relationship to the violence on-screen.

Picture 9/10

Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom returns to The Criterion Collection with a stunning new 4K UHD special edition, presenting the film in Dolby Vision on a triple-layer disc, retaining its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. This 2160p/24hz ultra high-definition presentation is sourced from a fresh 4K restoration by StudioCanal, using a scan of the original negative.

This presentation is marvelous, a striking improvement over their original DVD released almost twenty-four years ago. The expected enhancements in resolution and detail are here: the 4K scan captures intricate bits of information and textures, and the encoding does a superb job rendering it all, right down to the film’s grain structure, which looks impressively clean throughout. The restoration efforts have also eliminated almost all damage, with only a few minor marks remaining. Some transitions and opticals exhibit a slightly dupey appearance, but this is expected.

What truly surprised me, however, were the improvements in black levels and colors, particularly the latter. I never realized how vibrant this film actually is. My experience with the film has been limited to Criterion’s DVD, which, though fine, didn't particularly stand out in terms of color. The original DVD had a flat EastmanColor look, but this new presentation reveals the film’s true palette. While beiges and skin tones remain somewhat limited by the film stock, the reds, blues, and greens now pop with incredible vibrancy. The encode handles these colors beautifully, even managing how cleanly reds render over blacks. HDR significantly enhances this aspect by broadening the range within the colors, as it does with black levels and shadows. The contrast issues from the DVD are now glaringly apparent, especially in scenes set in Mark’s screening room, which now show far more depth and range in this presentation, from the projector's light to the room's darkest corners. The scene where Moira Shearer’s character enters the empty studio stage is another standout, darker and creepier than the DVD could achieve (the included Blu-ray’s 1080p presentation is also better, yet it still falls short in shadow delineation).

Having watched the film numerous times on DVD, I was always aware of its effective photography. However, this release has made me truly appreciate how striking and gorgeous it is. From the meticulous restoration to the solid encoding, the film looks stunning.

Audio 7/10

Even the new lossless mono presentation (in single-channel PCM) sounds unbelievably good. The audio range is impressively wide, with clear highs in the film’s louder moments, including its score. It’s also remarkably clean, with no severe damage or distortion present.

Extras 9/10

Though it consists of previously produced material and nothing I would classify as new, Criterion’s edition packs in quite a bit, porting all supplements from their DVD edition and some material StudioCanal produced for their various editions. This includes two audio commentaries: Laura Mulvey’s, recorded in 1994 for Criterion’s LaserDisc edition, and Ian Christie’s, recorded by StudioCanal in 2007.

With a hint of shame, I must admit that I did not care for Mulvey's track after first listening to it back in 2000, when it was included on their DVD edition. I found it a dry, meandering experience bordering on arrogant, leading me to dismiss her comments around the film right out of the gate. I’ve carried that with me since, leading me to dread a revisit with this edition (24 years later), only to find it wasn’t that bad. In fact, I’d now say it’s pretty good, though not without its flaws from a presentation perspective.

In terms of content, her insights into the film’s meta-examination of voyeurism and how that relates to cinema’s “ease” in allowing audiences to be voyeurs and “intrude” on the action themselves prove helpful, along with her comments on how the film satirizes the British film industry of the time through the film-within-the-film (which seems to get funnier each time I watch it). Mulvey also breaks down the psychology of the film’s main character, referencing Freud and Oedipus (with mention that Powell and writer Leo Marks had originally intended to make a film about Freud) before rounding things out with the more obvious elements like phallic imagery (the tripod leg, for instance) and the male gaze.

I’m not sure why I reacted so poorly to it initially, though if I had to guess, it would come down simply to the fact I wasn’t terribly fond of the movie at the time and was also—if arguably still—an immature idiot. And though I appreciate the track more now, I still find it a bit too dry and stuffy, which is a possible side effect of her obvious reading from a script. Because of that, I may still prefer Christie’s track, even if he takes a bit of a different approach. Christie touches on some of the same subjects Mulvey does, but his tactic, which feels looser and is more scene-specific, is to focus on the film’s production, writer Leo Marks, and its relation to Powell’s broader body of work. He also breaks down specific sequences, usually to highlight how they expose the psychology of the film's characters.

Both tracks also cover the film’s troubled release and how it ultimately harmed Powell’s career, though Christie delves into how it was rediscovered and reassessed decades later, something I don’t recall Mulvey getting all that into. They both place the film in the context of its time, explaining how it shocked audiences, and also manage to reference each other’s comments, Mulvey referencing Christie’s writings and Christie referencing her commentary. Ultimately, I found them both quite good, and I appreciate that Criterion went to the effort to license Christie's track to appear alongside the one they recorded (30 years ago, now).

Both commentaries can be found on the 4K disc and the standard Blu-ray housing a 1080p presentation of the film. All video supplements are found on the standard Blu-ray disc, starting with a 2-minute introduction by Martin Scorsese, recorded in 2007 for one of StudioCanal’s DVD editions, and featuring the director sharing his impressions of the film, particularly how “necessary and consuming making art can be.” Also filmed by StudioCanal is a 10-minute interview with editor and Powell’s widow, Thelma Schoonmaker. She recalls her and Scorsese’s first viewing of the film, which had been near-impossible to see beforehand. She explains its initial poor reception and Powell’s (and actor Carl Boehm’s) disappointment around its release before talking about what repulsed viewers so much at the time—the primary reason being the film’s sympathetic portrayal of its antagonist. It’s a wonderful and affectionate appreciation of her late husband and his favorite film while also examining how films often are only appreciated long after their initial release.

Criterion also ports over StudioCanal’s 19-minute documentary The Eye of the Beholder, featuring interviews with Christie, Mulvey, Scorsese, Schoonmaker, and actor Carl Boehm. It focuses primarily on the film’s disastrous reception and its rediscovery decades later, with Scorsese mentioning its underground status before his introduction to it thanks to filmmaker Jim McBride. It covers the film’s production briefly, but for something more thorough along those lines, Criterion has included A Very British Psycho from their DVD edition. Playing at a brisk 51 minutes, the documentary serves two purposes. First, it works as a making-of, gathering interviews with cast and crew members (including stars Boehm and Anna Massey, the latter of whom didn’t care for the film) and then critics and scholars. Even Michael Powell’s son, Columba Powell, pops up to talk about his appearance as the young Mark Lewis.

The documentary’s second purpose is to provide a brief biography of the film’s writer, Leo Marks. Marks served as a cryptographer for the SOE during WWII, and he talks about his experiences (what he can, at any rate) and his involvement in developing the “Silk Code.” His experiences appear to have influenced his writing of the film on some level, at least when it came to the psychological complexities of the character. He also discusses the script and how he came to work with Powell, the two originally planning to do a project on Freud.

Jumping smoothly between its two subjects, it’s a terrific documentary that does as thorough a job as it can covering both.

Closing off the disc is the film’s trailer, followed by a detailed 15-minute featurette on the film’s restoration and fully exploring the entire process from finding the best quality prints to color grading the final product. There’s even some discussion around the thought process behind how much of the image should be “corrected” without going against the filmmakers' intent, which is not always as obvious as one would think.

An insert then features a new essay by author Megan Abbott covering the film’s history and subject matter, replacing Mulvey’s essay from the DVD. Outside of that essay, Criterion doesn’t include any other “new” content, though that ends up not being too big a concern: the release is about as comprehensive as one could hope.

Closing

Peeping Tom reenters the collection with a stunning new presentation and a fantastic set of features. A solid upgrade all around.

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Directed by: Michael Powell
Year: 1960
Time: 101 min.
 
Series: The Criterion Collection
Edition #: 58
Licensor: Studio Canal
Release Date: May 14 2024
MSRP: $49.95
 
4K UHD Blu-ray/Blu-ray
2 Discs | BD-50/UHD-100
1.66:1 ratio
English 1.0 PCM Mono
Subtitles: English
Regions A/None
HDR: HDR10Dolby Vision
 
 Audio commentary by film scholar Laura Mulvey   Audio commentary by film historian Ian Christie   Introduction by filmmaker Martin Scorsese   Interview with editor Thelma Schoonmaker   Documentary about the film’s history, featuring interviews with Schoonmaker, Scorsese, and actor Carl Boehm   Documentary about screenwriter Leo Marks   Program on the film’s restoration   Trailer   An essay by author Megan Abbott