1960 thriller combined voyeurism, repression, child abuse, and sexual crime long before the public was ready.
Hollywood lore is sprinkled with tales of maligned cinematic masterpieces. British director Michael Powell’s 1960 voyeuristic thriller Peeping Tom is one of them—a film so savagely reviewed that it irreparably damaged what had been an acclaimed directorial career. While Powell should not have suffered so brutal a fate, his film’s rebranding as a work of incandescent genius is also not fully deserved. In the end Peeping Tom is a perfectly decent piece of filmmaking, amazingly forward-looking but also flawed. It deals with a man-child obsessed with filming women at the moment the fear of death appears in their eyes, and our villain does this of course by murdering them, and he manages to kill, film, and keep his subjects in frame at all times by using a spear-like contraption attached to his camera tripod. As you can probably guess, his carefully balanced existence is upset by the arrival of a prospective love interest, and we know from the moment she appears that she’ll be in front of his lens at some point.
In the U.S., Peeping Tom came after Alfred Hitchcock’s similar Psycho, but it Britain it arrived first. Censorship was slipping in British cinema, but to get a sense of how prudish authorities still were, consider the fact that Hitchcock’s movie caused controversy not only for its showermurder and for showing Janet Leigh in her bra and in bed with a man, but for being the first film to show a flushing toilet—an affront to bluenoses though the contents were merely a torn up note. Peeping Tom pushed the envelope farther and did it first, showing the killer Mark Lewis preying on sex workers and nude models, showing nudie reel star Pamela Green sprawled topless on a bed just before her murder, and drawing out the killings to agonizing length as Lewis coaxes the perfect expression of terror from his victims. Powell develops his killer to the extent that the audience must understand him as a human, and uses point-of-view to make the character’s films-within-the-film the equivalent of snuff movies.
The list of technical achievements goes on—Powell deftly manages to make Peeping Tom brutal without spilling a drop of blood, and his visual approach is engrossing. So why isn’t the movie a 10? Well, there are a few glaring script incongruities, some of the acting is below professional level, the killer seems careless for someone that has been at it for a while, and the idea of so obviously disturbed a man—stuttering, mumbling, visibly shying from any form of human contact—being able to attractevan a woman as kind and credulous as Anna Massey just doesn’t ring true. There are men who are projects, and there are men who are lost causes—are we right, girls? That’s what the Pulp Intl. girlfriends say anyway. But Peeping Tom is a film every cinephile should see. The moral objections of contemporary critics seem quaint now—many hated being forced to experience the murders from the killer’s perspective, but the viewer’s loss of choice echoes the killer’s helplessness to control himself, and that may very well be Powell’s best trick.
The Noir City Film Festival ends tonight with a pairing of Peeping Tom with the Michelangelo Antonioni classic Blow-Up, which means here at Pulp Intl. we’ll close the book on the fest and move back into the more diverse subject matter that usually makes up our website. We wanted to use Noir City as an excuse to delve into the film noir catalog and we managed to watch sixteen of the twenty-five films on the schedule—some for the second or third time—and write about twelve of them.
This all made for a quite enjoyable week, with much wine drunk and popcorn noshed (we have a Whirley popcorn maker we had sent over from the States that does a bang-up job), but it was also a bit of work. At this point we doubt we’ll go through all the considerable effort of screening next year’s Noir City slate, but you never know. Next January is a long, long way off—or at least, it should seem that way if you’re living life the way you should. We'll marinate on it and see.
Who were the people behind this magazine? They don't offer many clues.
Top Secret fashioned itself a top tier tabloid, but one thing we’ve never liked about it is an inferior printing process that makes its interior images look like cheap dot matrix. We can’t tell you who to blame for that, though, because Top Secret was so secret it didn’t bother with masthead credits. At least not in the issues we’ve bought. Writers get by-lines, but editors and publishers do not so much as give a hint of their identities. Hell, our issues don’t even have publication dates, but we've discerned this one is from November 1964. Well, the backers might have been incognito but the methods were nothing unusual. One writer digs up dirt on Xavier Cugat and Abbe Lane, another tells the story of mass killer Jose Rosario Ramirez Camacho, another contributor delves into Tuesday Weld’s personal life, and a U.S. “heroin epidemic” is pinned on Chinese plotting to undermine democracy.
Of special note, there’s a photo of Pamela Green (panel 18), whose weird transformation into Princess Sonmar-Harriks we shared a while back. Also, the photo of French actress Astrid Caron (in the bikini) looks familiar. That’s because we saw it in a different tabloid—this issue of Inside Story—unattributed and used for a piece about suntan lotions. It shows how these magazines used handout photos for whatever purposes they saw fit. Also, Top Secret publishes an open letter to America entitled A Homosexual Pleads—Why Don’t You Leave Us Alone! You’d be forgiven for expecting something ridiculous from a mid-century tabloid, but this piece credited to an anonymous writer is smart and serious. It enumerates the injustices gay men face, from housing discrimination to military disenfranchisement, and feels like it could have been written yesterday. Scans below.
They say it’s only skin deep.
Who does the woman on this issue of Harrison Marks’ Kamera No. 26 remind you of? Think carefully. If you said Rachel Dolezal that’s exactly who we were thinking of. In past times Dolezal would have been a local kook, but one considered harmless in the scheme of things. Today she’s landed smack in the middle of America’s poisonous race debate and everyone in the Western world with an internet connection is aware of her. So, while her fifteen minutes lasts, what better time could there be for Pulp Intl. to join in by sharing this Kamera?
As cover star Pamela Green shows, various degrees of race appropriation have a long history, done for show business (Al Jolson, C. Thomas Howell, Eddie Murphy, et al.), stupid fun (think frat parties of the past), economic or social gain (passing as white), malicious intent (typically the case), sex (we can only assume), and myriad other reasons. In Green’s case, she’s posing as Princess Sonmar-Harriks, a made-up Middle-Eastern persona she adopted for photo sessions conducted by Marks, who was her husband.
Green dominates this issue of Kamera, appearing in the centerfold and numerous other pages as both Sonmar-Harriks and herself, but readers are also treated to other models variously lounging on leopard skins, loitering in alleys, showing off oiled-up boobs, erased pubes, and more. We have more of these we’ll get around to posting, and meantime you can see another here, and something very rare in a smilar vein published by Harrison Marks here.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1986—Otto Preminger Dies
Austro–Hungarian film director Otto Preminger, who directed such eternal classics as Laura, Anatomy of a Murder
, Carmen Jones
, The Man with the Golden Arm
, and Stalag 17
, and for his efforts earned a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, dies in New York City, aged 80, from cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
1998—James Earl Ray Dies
The convicted assassin of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., petty criminal James Earl Ray, dies in prison of hepatitis aged 70, protesting his innocence as he had for decades. Members of the King family who supported Ray's fight to clear his name believed the U.S. Government had been involved in Dr. King's killing, but with Ray's death such questions became moot.
1912—Pravda Is Founded
The newspaper Pravda, or Truth, known as the voice of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, begins publication in Saint Petersburg. It is one of the country's leading newspapers until 1991, when it is closed down by decree of then-President Boris Yeltsin. A number of other Pravdas appear afterward, including an internet site and a tabloid.
1983—Hitler's Diaries Found
The German magazine Der Stern claims that Adolf Hitler's diaries had been found in wreckage in East Germany. The magazine had paid 10 million German marks for the sixty small books, plus a volume about Rudolf Hess's flight to the United Kingdom, covering the period from 1932 to 1945. But the diaries are subsequently revealed to be fakes written by Konrad Kujau, a notorious Stuttgart forger. Both he and Stern journalist Gerd Heidemann go to trial in 1985 and are each sentenced to 42 months in prison.
1918—The Red Baron Is Shot Down
German WWI fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron, sustains a fatal wound while flying over Vaux sur Somme in France. Von Richthofen, shot through the heart, manages a hasty emergency landing before dying in the cockpit of his plane. His last word, according to one witness, is "Kaputt." The Red Baron was the most successful flying ace during the war, having shot down at least 80 enemy airplanes.
1964—Satellite Spreads Radioactivity
An American-made Transit satellite, which had been designed to track submarines, fails to reach orbit after launch and disperses its highly radioactive two pound plutonium power source over a wide area as it breaks up re-entering the atmosphere.
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