In this conclusion I briefly update the history of Peeping Tom and suggest some reasons why the film has been rehabilitated; by and large, with each passing year, the stature of the film has grown. Powell himself commented [1992, p 403] Tom is secure in his place in the movie hall of fame...." And it must constitute a tribute of some kind to find a version of the film relatively freely available on videotape nearly forty years later.
A survey of UK film critics was undertaken in 1985, the centenary year of the industry. Nine of twenty one critics surveyed included Peeping Tom in their lists of all-time top ten British films. A "poll of polls" placed the film second to Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) with the only other film of the 1950s and 1960s in the list being Performance (1969). [Adair and Roddick 1985 p 143]
But by no means all contemporary critics share this opinion. Leslie Halliwell, seemingly without intentional irony, dismisses the film as "... a kind of compendium of the bad taste the director showed in flashes during his career." [Walker 1997 p 578]
And Christopher Tookey, who makes a career out of spotting "unacceptable" films then writing sensational stories about how sensational they are, most recently Cronenberg's Crash (1997), comments
though cleverly made by an obviously talented director, this is a nasty, mean-spirited, somewhat pretentious film about the - rather tenuous - links between voyeurism, sadism, film-making and film-watching; some of the performances are embarrassingly bad [Tookey 1994 p 637].
But at least one of the critics who leaped on Powell's corpse has had second thoughts. In 1994 Dilys Powell published a complete retraction of her original review of the film:
Reading now what I wrote in 1960 I find that... nearly everything I said conceals the extraordinary quality of Peeping Tom .... I find I am convinced that it is a masterpiece.... [Tookey 1994 p 637]
So what prompted this rehabilitation?
This is a story in itself but here are some of its key threads.
As the millennium draws to a close films of the horror genre enjoy continuing popularity with audiences as well as a considerable degree more respectability than was the case forty years ago. The "slasher" film has come to occupy a special niche within the genre and there have been numerous films (and a sometimes inexhaustible supply of sequels) which make heroes of their bogeymen; Freddie Krueger of A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) is perhaps the best known of these.
Similarly the psychological thriller: few years go by without at least one prominent example and these have the added dimension of exhibiting a far greater degree of sexual equality with murderous women frequently being their protagonists.
Another crucial factor is the ascent of film studies as an academic discipline, conferring respectability on the cineaste and borrowing eclectically from other sciences, not least psychology as evidenced in this text. The rise of this discourse has influenced the work of new generations of critics and film-makers alike.
Perhaps most significantly has been the championing of Powell by influential figures in the industry, not least Martin Scorsese to whom Powell dedicates his second volume of memoirs. Peeping Tom is now widely regarded as Powell's masterpiece.
Peeping Tom, Hutchings [1993 p 88] suggests, played a key part in the "critical remapping of British cinema" since the 1970's, a process which involved "the recovery of fantastic elements from the margins".
British films such as those made by Nicolas Roeg, Peter Greenaway and Derek Jarman may, perhaps, never have been made were it not for the vigorous assertion of the primacy of the image by earlier directors like Powell.
I cede to Powell [1992 pp 407-408] the privilege of having the last word:
A country's films, like a country's poets, are one of its greatest cultural assets.... A great film can change the world in a flash of time.... Films have a short life, do they? We shall see, my friends, we shall see.
|Introduction: A puzzle and a half|
|Looking Voyeurism, scopophilia and other visual pleasures|
|Photographing me photographing you|
|What the critics saw|
|Appendix 1: Cast, credits and technical information|
|Appendix 2: Filmography and picture sources|