24 Frames: Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960)

As Molly Haskell and others have noted, two main cycles of films have dominated commercial cinema since the mid-1960s in the wake of the women’s movement. The first excluded women (these were the so-called “buddy-buddy” films) in an effort to avoid the problem of sexual difference altogether; while the second, emerging when the problem of sexual difference could no longer be avoided, showed women being raped and subjected to violence.
This latter cycle was prepared for in I960 by a film which, while at that moment condemned for its unnecessary sadism, is now seen as ahead of its time – Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom. This film, perhaps more than any other, brings together the mechanisms underlying all three of the earlier Hollywood films discussed, where we saw the attempt by patriarchy to eliminate woman’s threat, first by dominating her through the controlling power of the gaze; second by fetishizing her; and finally through murder. The first two mechanisms depend very obviously on the camera as the apparatus for controlling and manipulating the look, and for objectifying woman. But the representation of woman murdered is, of course, equally the product of the camera used to control the female image, i.e. to oppress woman through representation itself. The camera is the means through which the feminine in representation is relegated to a male construct, so that women are deprived of owning “the feminine.” and even of discovering what the feminine might be, outside of male constructs.
Ultimately a more complex and interesting work than the so-called “mad- slasher” movies emerging in the 1980s, Peeping Tom is also useful here in its dimension as a film that literalizes both the power of the camera to subdue women and the way the cinema constructs a masochistic female spectator. The psychopathic hero uses his camera, first, to seduce women. What is interesting here is that he relies paradoxically on the construction of women in patriarchy as to-be-gazed-at – a construction that women have internalized – to lure them into his realm. The desire of the women in Peeping Tom to be seen — to be objectified, made into spectacle – is what makes them vulnerable to his manipulation.
But the hero secondly turns his camera into the destroying phallus (exposing here the link between the phallus/knife as murder weapon in noir films and the camera as phallic substitute for domination), since one of the tripod legs suddenly shoots out a knife (recalling the phallic/knife walking- stick in Gilda! as the hero begins the process of filming. Finally, Peeping Tom exposes the way the cinema screen reflects women’s masochistic identification with the female image as victim, through the device of the mirror attached to the hero’s camera. Most brutally of all his victims are forced to witness their own murder in the mirror placed so as to compel their vision. The woman spectator is thus in the position of experiencing a doubly masochistic identification: first, she identifies with the female figure and her construction as masochistic spectator and second, there is her own position in the cinema as spectator identifying with the female victim.
The cycle that Peeping Tom prepares for is represented in the early 1970s by films like A Clockwork Orange and Klute, and a little later on by Last Tango in Paris, Straw Dogs, and Lipstick. The first two films show women treated brutally by men: in Clockwork women are abused, taunted, and finally raped: in Klute, the murderer’s crazed final speech to the heroine exposes the underlying hostility toward female sexuality: women, for him, all want sex, and they titillate men to get it, the prostitute here simply expressing in a more overt form behavior that all women secretly aspire to.
Last Tango in Paris and Straw Dogs add a certain twist in that while women are again forcibly assaulted, they succumb to the rape finally because they become sexually aroused. Their behavior, in other words, corroborates the crazed murderer’s notion that women all yearn for sex. Lipstick, meanwhile, points toward a trend that has become fashionable in the 1980s, namely women first raped and brutally treated but then seen taking revenge on their rapists. Woman now has the phallus, in the shape of the gun, and her threat is diminished by dressing her in male clothes and in giving her the essentially male avenging role. Thus, the pattern fits the recent one of masculinizing women in that the dominant-submission pattern is kept intact but gender identification within the pattern has been altered.

Women and Film: Both Sides of the Camera (E. Ann Kaplan)

Nota: Revisando aos poucos a obra dos mais influenciados, revi recentemente Taxi Driver e o filme do Scorsese é uma releitura de Peeping Tom em sua totalidade (na mesma proporção que Raging Bull é de Sapatinhos Vermelhos), é só trocar a perspectiva do observador atrás da câmera para o de dentro de um táxi e as mulheres para uma visão mais geral do submundo. Dentre as inúmeras cenas paralelas mais descaradas está o momento da venda de armas recriando o apartamento-estúdio, De Niro assitindo tv sob a mesma perspectiva que Bohm ao telão, e o excesso de vermelho característico em todo cinema de Powell (mas essa virou a citação obsessiva do Scorsese em todos os seus filmes), ou seja, Taxi Driver é tão sobre cinema quanto Peeping Tom ou Red Shoes o são.

Publicado por Adriana Scarpin

Bibliófila, ailurófila, cinéfila e anarcafeminista. Really. Podem me encontrar também aqui: https://linktr.ee/adrianascarpin

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