Netflix has a lot of content but there is so much of it, it can be hard to find something to watch. The images are links that will direct you to the film on Netflix.
Peeping Tom is a phenomenal psychosexual thriller released one year before Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Unlike Psycho, Peeping Tom was not only panned by audiences, it was regarded as highly controversial, and suffered immense censorship. It did have supporters like Martin Scorsese who remarked that it contained all that could be said about directing. Powell was an amazing director but sadly his career hit a standstill with the poor reception Peeping Tom received upon release.
This film contained some of the early glimpses of female nudity on film for a western audience and worked with uncomfortable themes. Unlike many other psychosexual films of the late 50s and early 60s, this film is *not* campy and looking back it’s hard to understand how this film was nearly thrown away and forgotten by cinema lovers while Psycho went on to major critical acclaim as one of Hitchcock’s best films.
The lead actor, Carl Boehm, acted his role with immaculate perfection. He is a killer and one who gets a sexual kick out of the ultimate form of voyeurism but he is also sympathetic. The first scene of the film is done with the POV of Boehm’s hidden video camera as he solicits a street prostitute and takes her home to murder her on camera. The second scene of the film is the exact same footage replayed on a projector while Boehm watches the reel.
Boehm’s character works at a “legit” film production company that is working on a run-of-the-mill comedy but has a night job as a pornographer snapping photos in a small studio above a corner store with a secret porno stash for customers in the know. We find out later that the lead is financially secure; he is not in “need” of a night job, he just loves being behind the camera. His character has other complexities; a potential love interest despite his knowledge that the police will eventually catch on to his crimes, a backstory of childhood abuse by his famous psychologist father conducting studies of fear, and a tragic desire to connect to the people around him. Do not miss this film if: you like twisted tales of sex and murder artfully executed by a competent cast and production team.
I’m not recommending this movie because I like it. To be honest, I hated it. I really did. It’s title is deceptive and ”A Field Guide To The Creepy Dom: The Movie,” would be a much more fitting title because the film progresses very much like the checklist that Asher of Tranarchism wrote. I want to make it clear that I am not suggesting that cinema should be dry and explicit about consent but fantasies don’t follow those rules and these are actors playing a part and telling a story. That said, this isn’t a softcore steamy SM romp. It is a horror film about sexual relationships. It’s been very mislabeled in that regard. If you are triggered by scenes of abuse, skip this movie. If you are one of many BDSM educators and writers who has recommended this film to curious novices who want to explore SM, either you never actually screened this film or you need to qualify what you’re saying about this movie more because I was absolutely shell shocked by what I found because esteemed members of my community led me to believe that this was a progressive film on the merit that it opened BDSM up to mainstream discussion.
It’s bad form to review a film based on how well it adapted a novel but there are some major differences between the book and the film that are important to note. I read the book awhile back and although I didn’t think it was the best thing I had ever read in my life, it wasn’t the worst. It handled the lack of clear consent in a much sexier manner with some fundamental differences in tone and context. I also noticed that Kim Bassinger’s character went from being a business executive in the novel to an art gallery assistant in the movie. This created a very different power balance between the characters and it changes the intent of Mickey Rourke’s lavish gift-giving habit quite a bit. Everything about her is made to be somehow quaint. Mickey Rourke’s character also undergoes a transformation that makes him come off more like American Psycho than a man with kinky desires who struggles with emotional connection.
It is also the reception to this film that unnerves me. More often than not, reviewers will comment that Mickey Rourke’s character instinctively “knows” her “need to be dominated.” The fact that this relationship is abusive within the first 20 minutes of the film is often skipped, even by Roger Ebert. It’s usually described as being a steamy film about a couple experimenting with alternative sexual practices. Instead, it’s a film about a man obsessed with his own power and wealth who gets off on pushing his sexual partners outside of the boundaries repeatedly even to the point of rape.
When the film got to the rape scene my jaw dropped. The fear, tension, and abject abuse of the scene is made abundantly clear but then becomes ridiculously stylized (much like the director’s most popular film Flashdance) and resolves itself with a “this is what she wanted, she just didn’t know it, and look how satisfied she is at the end” conclusion. This is something that happens all too often. I’m not generally disturbed by movies. I watch horror films with glee and laughter and slasher flicks are my idea of a great Friday night. This scene and its reception by audiences represented rape culture. He doesn’t have to ask her and he can ignore her active protestations because he knows what she really wants. She doesn’t just “want” this kind of sex, however. She is always described as needing it.
The reception to the film reveals quite a bit about how we think about abusive relationships in our culture. Rourke’s character, John, is described as a man who “has to have sex like this because he can’t express his emotion.” Kim Bassinger’s character, Elizabeth, is described as soft and looking for love that John won’t offer. Very frequently, it is suggested that Elizabeth leaves John because he is emotionally withholding rather than the fact that he is an abusive rapist. In fact, the word rape is very, very rarely used at all. This is what horrifies me the most about the film. John is creepy, chilly, mesmerizing, and sometimes people will go so far as to say a little dangerous but no one wants to go any farther than that. Their relationship is sometimes described as “bad,” but never as abusive. I would hate this film less if it weren’t for the fact that it is so consistently billed as an erotic romance and starting point for curious couples. “John and Elizabeth” have been hailed as one of the sexiest couples on the silver screen (they take the #1 spot on MovieFone’s list).
Another wretched scene of the film transpires when Elizabeth wonders aloud what it’s like to be a man and John provides a full drag get-up for her and arranges a date in public where they are romantic. I loved this part of the novel but the movie depicts it very differently. Elizabeth can’t smoke a cigar or drink cognac “like a man,” as if these activities qualify masculinity in some way which I could have ignored if the film didn’t add a ridiculous chase scene through the streets of Manhattan where a group of violent men mistake the couple as “fags” and chase them down. This is played off as romantic and even funny because the fag bashers “got the wrong couple” because Elizabeth isn’t really a fag, she’s a babe!
Hearing about the mind games that director Adrian Lyne played with Kim Bassinger to force a real emotional breakdown at the end of the film revealed another layer of the film. The film was shot sequentially so that the behind-the-scenes games that Lyne played on Bassinger would have a cumulative effect as the film progressed. Mickey Rourke, however, was treated like an actor doing his job and was given clear directorial notes rather than off-set nonconsensual emotional manipulation. Sadly, this kind of gender bias in direction is not uncommon. This mode of direction is entirely unacceptable in my book and yet it fits the tone of the film entirely. It’s fascinating that so many of the female leads in Lyne films are so often hypersexual and yet contained by male sexuality, i.e. Flashdance and Fatal Attraction.
For those among you who think of Hugh Laurie as the vicodin-popping doctor on House, it may come as a shock to know that Hugh Laurie is British and speaking in an American accent. The fact that this is a surprise to many people is why I am absolutely recommending this brilliant and hilarious sketch comedy show.
I am a very big fan of Stephen Fry. I love his scathingly intelligent humor, I love his barely contained rage, I love his honesty. Hugh Laurie is also someone who can be best described as totally fucking brilliant. What I wouldn’t give for coffee with the pair of them just to hear their uncensored thoughts about what it was like for them behind the scenes especially with their politics worn proudly on their sleeves. The Broadcasting Act of 1990 was a frequent target for the duo and they hated Rupert Murdoch before it was truly fashionable. They were openly disdainful of censorship and the notion that there are words that should never be uttered on television.
Laurie frequently plays the straight man in the duo save for his immense talent as a musician. Laurie is a very accomplished musician who is proficient in a number of instruments and musical genres. Fry is a master of dry cynicism that comes as close to the edge of just letting go into pure anger. Many forms of comedy are explored in the series from the silly and the absurd all the way to dark and macabre. This show gives you the chance when you might otherwise give up and despair. It’s a very fast paced show and one that can be watched again and again because you’ll always notice something new.