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Low Culture Podcast: Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom

In this month's Low Culture podcast John and Luke discuss 1960 film Peeping Tom which, while controversial in its day, has an entirely moral contemporary resonance

It’s November, which means that it’s time for John and I to have our first chat about knitwear of the year and, as with many things in life, my tQ co-pilot has gone hard and gone early by dropping on no less than four tops. Four! We keep the discussion warm by jumping right into this month’s Low Culture podcast – Michael Powell’s 1960 film, Peeping Tom. A complex dissection of post-war British morality that has at its core the motivations of serial killer Mark Lewis, who films his victims as they die, Peeping Tom was slammed by critics at the time, branded morally repugnant, and its director struggled to find work in the UK again. Yet John and I argue that in fact this is a deeply moral film, and the reaction to it in the early 1960s is akin to a modern Twitter storm. This is a film ahead of and out of time, both in content and execution – Powell’s use of colour is radical when you might expect a nourish approach, with the result that Peeping Tomis awkwardly beautiful. What’s more, the realism of the setting makes for an interesting comparison to the far more successful Psycho, which came out just months later, while its exploration of seedy Englishness makes it the bleak counterpoint to the hip 1966 film Blowup. John brings up some interesting context in how the actor who plays Lewis, German-born Austrian Karlheinz Böhm was brought up in Nazi Germany by a domineering father, something he used to inform his approach to the role. We also discuss how the film has further relevance today and can perhaps be seen as a reflection on how abuse often creates abusers, the connections between pornography and violent misogyny, sexual compulsion and addiction. In short, as is the case with many of Michael Powell’s films with Emeric Pressburger, there are uncanny contemporary psychological resonances in one of the greatest films ever made. Oh and one more thing – is the overarching message of Peeping Tomthat you just can’t trust mods?

Thanks to Alannah Chance for editing and producing the podcast, and to Keeley Naylor for sorting streaming links to the reissue. This will be available on UHD, Blu-ray and DVD release from 29th January 2024 via Studiocanal. As ever, thanks to everyone who helps us keep going by subscribing to tQ. To listen to the podcast you’ll need to be a Low Culture or Sound & Vision subscriber, signing up gives you access to this monthly broadcast plus a load more exclusive editorial, playlists, newsletters and, for the top tier, especially commissioned music. Sign up to be a tQ subscriber via the Steady checkout below or by visiting our page on the platform here.

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