Peeping Tom

BUY AT: Amazon.com Amazon.ca

See more details, packaging, or compare

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

The Criterion Collection updates its DVD edition of Peeping Tom to Blu-ray, years after the original edition went out of print. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode from a new 4K restoration in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. My review focuses on the standard Blu-ray disc included with the 4K UHD edition. Apart from the inclusion of the 4K disc, both editions are exactly the same.

Since this presentation is essentially a downscale of Criterion’s 4K edition, it retains many of the same improvements over the previous DVD, though it falls a bit short due to the limitations of the Blu-ray format. The image is significantly sharper than the DVD, delivering more detail and rendering grain far better. As with the 4K version, the colors are more vibrant, and the black levels are richer. However, the dynamic range isn’t as wide as what the 4K can offer, causing darker scenes to appear slightly flat.

Despite any minor drawbacks, the image looks terrific overall. The restoration work is phenomenal, clearing up almost all issues with only a few minor blemishes remaining. The encode is impressively clean, especially considering the macroblocking issues present in I Am Cuba. In the end, it’s a strong-looking image and a solid upgrade from the DVD.

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).

The video supplements kick off 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

Criterion's Blu-ray delivers a commendable upgrade over their previous DVD edition with a wonderful new high-def presentation and a good collection of academic supplements.

BUY AT: Amazon.com Amazon.ca

 
 
Directed by: Michael Powell
Year: 1960
Time: 101 min.
 
Series: The Criterion Collection
Edition #: 58
Licensor: Studio Canal
Release Date: May 14 2024
MSRP: $39.95
 
Blu-ray
1 Disc | BD-50
1.66:1 ratio
English 1.0 PCM Mono
Subtitles: English
Region A
 
 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