Saturday, August 28, 2010
The film that killed a career - Telegraph UK
Michael Powell's 'Peeping Tom': the film that killed a career
The critics poured scorn on Michael Powell's 'Peeping Tom' when it first came out 50 years ago, but now it is regarded as a masterpiece.
By David Gritten
Published: 10:37AM BST 27 Aug 2010
PEEPING TOM Photo: KOBAL COLLECTION / ANGLO AMALGAMATED
Half a century ago, in the early months of 1960, director Michael Powell enjoyed a reputation as one of Britain’s most respected and beloved filmmakers. Under the aegis of their production company The Archers, he and Emeric Pressburger made some 15 feature films in as many years, some of which are the most prestigious and revered in British film history: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, A Canterbury Tale, A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus and The Red Shoes. Powell split from Pressburger in 1956, but his standing seemed unassailable.
This all changed swiftly and radically in May 1960, with the release of Powell’s Peeping Tom – a horror thriller that marked a surprising change of direction for him.
London critics unanimously loathed it, and so scathing were their reviews that Powell found himself abruptly cast out into the wilderness; he was effectively persona non grata in the British film industry, which had previously praised his work to the skies. Peeping Tom ranks alongside David Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter and Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate as a film that caused a disastrous setback to its director’s career.
It was the subject matter of Peeping Tom that needled the critics. Its lead character, Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm), works as a focus puller with a film crew, and in his spare time is an amateur filmmaker. But he has a compulsion to murder women; he stabs them with a knife concealed in the tripod of his camera, and derives his kicks from filming the horrified expressions on their faces as they come to realise their fate.
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