Peeping Tom: He Has His Father’s Eyes

<em>Peeping Tom: </em>He Has His Father’s Eyes

The making of Peeping Tom (1960) began with an irresistible enticement. Director Michael Powell sat down with writer and World War II cryptographer Leo Marks to discuss a possible collaboration. At the time, Powell was looking for a writer with whom to partner after the end of his storied collaboration with Emeric Pressburger on myriad films that helped define British cinema, including The Red Shoes (1948) and A Matter of Life and Death (1946). Marks’s initial pitches—to make a film about a double agent, or one about Freud—had gone nowhere. But the third time was the charm. As Powell tells it in his memoir, the sly Marks sat down, “leaned toward me, fixed me with a penetrating gaze, and said, ‘Mr. Powell, how would you like to make a film about a young man with a camera who kills the women that he photographs?’”

“That’s me,” Powell replied instantly. “I’d like it very much.”

It’s an anecdote with the same lurid, beguiling energy that permeates Peeping Tom. Even Powell’s description of Marks’s gaze as “penetrating” suggests the movie’s repeated conflation of looking with both titillation and violence, sex and murder. Most important, the anecdote highlights how intensely personal the project was for Powell from the start. There was, of course, Powell’s obvious connection to a story about moviemaking but also, more deeply, his sympathy with its murderous protagonist, the focus puller and aspiring filmmaker Mark Lewis (brilliantly played by Carl Boehm, also known as Karlheinz Böhm), whose childhood trauma has fomented in him an obsession to capture on camera his victims’ final moments before death.

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