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What George A. Romero sees in Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom

Carl Bohem in Michael Powell's 1959 thriller Peeping Tom.

As part of the TIFF Cinematheque retrospective Living Dread: The Cinema of George A. Romero, the filmmaker was asked to choose a film by another director to complement the program. He picked Michael Powell's Peeping Tom, a controversial 1960 thriller about a serial killer who captures the dying expressions of women on 16mm.

Are you a fan of director Michael Powell in general, or is it the film Peeping Tom specifically?

I've long been admirer of Michael Powell. He's my main man. The Tales of Hoffmann, I think, is my favourite film of all time. It's the film that made me want to make movies. So, Peeping Tom is one of his films, and it basically ended his career.

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Undeservedly so?

It really didn't deserve the treatment it received. Looking at it now, it's really quite tame. Some of the things which were written about it were really scathing. They thought it should be thrown into the sewers.

Is the film an allegory for the director as a voyeur?

If you listen to the commentary track on the DVD, there's a lot of high talk about things that were supposedly planned. But I believe a lot of it was just instinct. I actually think Michael was making fun of the studio system, rather than making a deeper comment about voyeurism.

The idea of the director as a voyeur is unavoidable, isn't it?

To an extent, that's what you are, automatically. You're pushing your lens into people's lives, into their emotions. But Peeping Tom is a beautiful, skillful film. Whoever watches it becomes the voyeur.

What were Powell's unique skills?

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Well, you look at Black Narcissus, for example. It's a masterpiece. With The Red Shoes, every shot is beautifully composed. He choreographs actors effortlessly. It's effortless filmmaking.

George A. Romero introduces Peeping Tom on Nov. 4 at 7:30 p.m., TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King St. W.

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More


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