A Killer in Pleasantville

Carl Boehm in Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960)

“This is the movie that puts the sin in cinephilia,” wrote J. Hoberman in the Village Voice when Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1960) was revived in 1999. Hoberman’s piece on the film that “effectively ended Powell’s directorial career” is a swift and excellent primer on the reception up to the turn of the millennium of a disturbing portrait of a disturbed man. Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) is an assistant DP who kills women with his camera and gets off on footage of their final moments in his private darkroom.

The French were the first to “appreciate Powell’s film maudit,” but the initial reception in Britain was calamitous. Hoberman quotes a particularly off-putting early review: “I have carted my travel-stained carcass to some of the filthiest and most festering slums in Asia. But nothing, nothing, nothing—neither the hopeless leper colonies of East Pakistan, the back streets of Bombay, nor the gutters of Calcutta—has left me with such a feeling of nausea and depression as I got this week sitting through a new British film called Peeping Tom.

In 2010, the Telegraph’s David Gritten sketched an outline of the film’s reappraisal, which began in the 1970s. Martin Scorsese, whose forthcoming Made in England: The Films of Powell and Pressburger is a personal tribute to the team behind such classics as A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1947), and The Red Shoes (1948), spearheaded a rerelease in 1979, and Gritten notes that Scorsese once remarked that he’d “always felt that Peeping Tom and [Fellini’s] say everything that can be said about filmmaking, about the process of dealing with film, the objectivity and subjectivity of it and the confusion between the two. Peeping Tom shows the aggression of it, how the camera violates.”

“I think [Powell] felt that he had to reinvent himself for this movie,” Thelma Schoonmaker, who has edited most of Scorsese’s films and married Powell in 1984, told Matthew Thrift in the Notebook last fall. “Now that I’ve restored it, and seen it over and over, I really noticed the incredible camera moves . . . I think what Marty admires so much about the film is that it absolutely lays down the dangers of filmmaking. And we are destructive sometimes. Don’t ever rent your house to a filmmaker.”

Schoonmaker has worked closely with Scorsese’s The Film Foundation on the restoration of Powell and Pressburger’s films and with the British Film Institute on a recent retrospective that will arrive at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in June. On May 18, she’ll be in Pleasantville, New York, to take part in a Q&A following a screening of Peeping Tom during the first edition of JBFC Restored and Rediscovered, a new festival of preservation at Jacob Burns Film Center.

Opening Monday and running through May 23, the festival features The Film Foundation’s restorations of David Schickele’s Bushman (1971), a vision of late-1960s San Francisco as seen through the eyes of a Nigerian immigrant; Raoul Peck’s Lumumba: Death of a Prophet (1990), an investigation into the assassination of the first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo; and two films by Lee Grant, The Stronger (1976), a short adaptation of Strindberg’s 1889 play, and Tell Me a Riddle (1980), with Melvyn Douglas and Lila Kedrova as an elderly couple looking back on their lives as revolutionaries and Brooke Adams as their free-spirited granddaughter.

Nancy Savoca; her husband and frequent collaborator, Richard Guay; and their daughter, Martina Savoca-Guay, will join Milestone Films founders Amy Heller and Dennis Doros in a Q&A following the opening night screening of Household Saints (1993), the feature Savoca made after Dogfight (1991). Savoca-Guay will introduce her new making-of documentary, The Many Miracles of Household Saints. In January, Hoberman suggested in the New York Times that Household Saints, “a warmhearted fable spiced with magic realism and zesty performances, may be the most endearing of multigenerational Italian American family sagas and is likely the most mystical.”

Live music will accompany presentations of such silent classics as Ernst Lubitsch’s Lady Windermere’s Fan (1925) and Tod Browning’s The Unknown (1927), which Farran Smith Nehme calls “an incredible actors’ showcase” for Lon Chaney and Joan Crawford. Several directors will be present for three programs of what the festival is calling IndieCollect Shorts, and curator Monica Castillo will introduce the 4K restoration of Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949). “It’s just an incredible movie,” says John Carpenter, “and once I start watching it I can’t stop—even though that zither drives me nuts.”

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