Sunday, May 29, 2016

“Without X Films, What Are Exhibitors Going to Show?” Reconsidering Michael Powell's PEEPING TOM (1960)


“Take me to your cinema.”
Mrs. Stevens (Maxine Audley) to Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) in Peeping Tom (1960)

“Well, let’s get the wrong people in as well as the right ones.”
Michael Powell on marketing Peeping Tom

One of the most famous scandals in the history of British cinema is the 1960 release of Michael Powell's Peeping Tom by British distributor Anglo-Amalgamated, a company then enjoying box-office success with the "saucy" (i.e., puerile) Carry On comedy series and violent, pulpy horror films such as Horrors of the Black Museum (1959).  Peeping Tom tells the story of Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm), a voyeur and psychotic, whose now-deceased scientist father had subjected him to sadistic experiments as a child, including filming and taping his grimaces and cries of fear while torturing him with reptiles and sudden noises in the middle of the night.  As an adult, Mark works as a focus puller in a film studio by day, moonlights taking pornographic pictures, and prowls the street at night with a hidden camera, murdering women with a bayonet affixed to his tripod while he films their faces in final agony.  We later discover that the women are forced to watch their own dying faces in a mirror attached to the camera.  His first two victims are Dora (Brenda Bruce) a street-based sex worker, and Vivian (Moira Shearer), an extra at the film studio.





Mark struggles against his compulsion and takes the first, halting steps toward friendship and romance with his downstairs tenant, Helen Stephens (Anna Massey), in spite of the objections of her sightless mother (Maxine Audley), who finds Mark secretive and stealthy.  After murdering pin-up model Milly (Pamela Green) during a photo shoot, Mark returns home to find that Helen has discovered his secret home theater and his homemade murder movies.  As the police frantically attempt to break down the door to his studio, Mark commits suicide in front of Helen with his own weapon as pre-set still cameras record his death throes.  The film ends with a shot of Mark’s now-dark movie screen, while on the soundtrack we hear a taped exchange between the child Mark and his father which ends with the child’s tremulous, “Good night, Daddy.  Hold my hand.”








Powell (left) with Emeric Pressburger
Histories of this greatest of cursed films have emphasized its supposed career-ending effect on director Michael Powell who, two years prior to signing on with Anglo had broken with his longtime Archers collaborator Emeric Pressburger and was no longer supported by the powerful Rank Organization, under whose auspices the team had produced international box-office hits such as The Thief of Baghdad (1940), A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948), and Tales of Hoffman (1951).  

The hallucinatory masterpiece Black Narcissus (1947)
Moira Shearer in The Red Shoes (1948)

Other histories of the film emphasize the intricate linguistic and psychoanalytic subtext of the film’s screenplay by former wartime code breaker Leo Marks. In these various accounts, Powell and Marks cagily used the resources of Anglo Amalgamated schlockmeisters Nat Cohen and Stuart Levy to produce a subversive, avant-garde film masquerading as a horror programmer which was decades ahead of its time and which was immediately pulled from release after public indifference and excoriating reviews. The film then languished in obscurity until later critics such as Carlos Clarens and director Martin Scorsese, sensitive to its profound philosophical engagement with the deep structures of the horror genre and the institution of cinema itself, pressed for its radical re-evaluation.

If we move the genuinely heroic figures of Powell, Marks, Clarens, and Scorsese to the side and examine the film against the background of distribution and exhibition, a more complex picture emerges.  Peeping Tom's director, its British distributor, and the theaters which would ultimately book the film were all responding to a severe crisis in the postwar British film industry which changed the relationship between the production, distribution, and exhibition branches of the movie business.  Amidst Britain's decimated 1950s economy, Hollywood was attempting to compensate for its diminishing domestic box office in the wake of suburbanization, the rise of television, and the sale of the major studios' theater chains under the U.S. Supreme Court's 1948 Paramount decision by aggressively promoting its product in British cinemas through its own long-established distribution subsidiaries.  This had the catastrophic effect of funneling large amounts of hard currency out of Britain’s devastated postwar economy. The years 1947 and 1948 saw Britain impose a currency freeze and Hollywood retaliate with an export ban. At the same time, the major exhibition circuits ABC, Odeon, and Gaumont extended their first runs of the premiere product of both Hollywood and Britain, leading to a product shortage in provincial and subsequent-run theaters at least as acute as the one faced by American exhibitors during the same period.  In the 1950s, cinemas outside of the first-and-second-run markets also struggled to fill thirty per cent of their playdates with British films under the screen quota provisions of the revised Cinematograph Films Act.

It was in 1949, during the darkest days of this fallow period that British distributor Exclusive incorporated Hammer Film Productions to make quota-filling program pictures for the starving British theatrical market. The following year saw the establishment of the British Film Finance Company, a pool for domestic film production funded by a voluntary tax on each cinema ticket sold in Britain, the so-called “Eady Levy.” 

  Hammer Films' first major hit was based on a BBC television series
               and was released to theaters in 1955 with a title that underscored its
              X-certificate content, which limited moviegoers to sixteen years and older.
When the Levy became mandatory in 1956, Hollywood realized that it could establish nominally “British” production subsidiaries and have its investment augmented by as much as fifty per cent with funds from the BFFC. British producers such as Hammer and Anglo-Amalgamated, and later Compton, Amicus, and Tigon, could have the lion’s share of their own investment in their production slate paid for with Eady funds. 

Anglo-Amalgamated, like Exclusive, was independent of the vertically-integrated Rank and ABC groups and had been formed in 1949 to supply quota features to a wide range of exhibitors. Anglo enjoyed after 1958 a reciprocal distribution arrangement with U.S. low-budget genre film specialist American International Pictures, with each handling the other’s product line in their home country. A number of Anglo’s horror, comedy, and crime pictures were financed with a combination of Eady and AIP money, beginning with Cat Girl in 1957. Thus, we can see that two of the signature postwar exemplars of the English-language horror cinema—the black-and-white drive-in program pictures of AIP such as I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957) and the colorful Gothic cinema of Hammer films which began with Curse of Frankenstein that same year—grew out of the changing relationship between the distribution and exhibition branches of the film industry in both the U.S. and Britain and the two decades-long product shortage which resulted from these changes.



           
By the late 1950s, both American and British subsequent-run exhibitors came to rely on an eclectic programming strategy to maintain their twice-weekly program changes, and smaller distributors began to acquire a number of films from continental Europe to release to these product-hungry theaters. Some American companies, such as Mayer-Burstyn, Janus Films, Times Films, and Films Around the World carefully built up an upscale older, educated lost audience” through their handling of postwar art films. Many of these companies also handled exploitation films under their own moniker or that of a subsidiary. The American leader in this release strategy was Joseph Levine’s Embassy Pictures, which
released horror films such as Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1955) and Jack the Ripper (1959), dozens of dubbed sword and sandal epics such as David and Goliath (1960) and Hercules in the Vale of Woe (1961), and art-house classics like Two Women (1960), Sky Above, Mud Below (1962), 8 ½, and Contempt (both 1963), all of which were promoted on their real, imagined, or added sensational content.  During this period, the instability of the categories of art-cinema, horror films, exploitation, and x-certificate sex films was a feature of both booking patterns of films into product-starved theaters and textual elements of the films themselves.

The Plaza in Picadilly Circus
The ABC Kingston-Upon-Thames
The Roxy Cinema in St. Leonards
At the time of Peeping Tom’s release, there were three tiers of exhibition in England. The West End of London was home to the country’s showcase houses owned by Rank, ABC, et al., and were the focus of publicity and high-profile premieres.  The Plaza at Picadilly Circus, where Peeping Tom had its world premiere, was one such showcase house.  The circuits, comprised of theaters owned by ABC, Rank’s Odeon and Gaumont chains, and smaller chains like Granada (who enjoyed an exclusive arrangement with 20th-Century Fox), were key to suburban first run engagements. The ABC Kingston Upon Thames located in the western part of Greater London was one such 2500-seat suburban circuit house.  Finally, there were the 500-seat halls in the suburbs and industrial North, Midlands, and South, known as “nine-pennies” or “industrial” situations, which had suffered a 15% decline in attendance since the launching of ITV in 1955 and which were often starved for subsequent-run product, especially pictures which fulfilled their quota requirement.  The 450-seat Roxy Cinema located in St. Leonards-on-Sea on England's southern coast was one of these provincial halls, many of which were going out of business at an alarming rate in 1958-1961.
The theatrical trailer for Horrors of the Black Museum
               deliberately underscored the film's X-certificate content
           by ceremoniously refusing to show any of it
Exhibitors also had to comply with the British Board of Film Censors' classification system and manage any public relations fallout from booking films seen as sensationalist or objectionable.   In 1959, every film released theatrically in the U.K. was assigned one of three ratings by the BBFC.  A "U" certificate certified that the film was appropriate for all ages.  An "A" certificate advised parents and theaters that the film was more suitable for adults than children.  Finally, an "X" certificate limited the audience to members over sixteen years of age.  The increasing number of X-certificate films, especially horror films, was a source of friction between many smaller suburban and provincial exhibitors and local boards and watch committees. Sidewalk displays and publicity stunts, which had been common for genre pictures since the 1930s, now included hearses, ambulances, and coffins (for Exclusive’s  release of their Hammer Dracula [1958]), and an improvised, gore-soaked operating theater in the lobby for a 1960 engagement of the French surgical shocker Eyes Without a Face Such tactics came under fire for excessive morbidity from both industry trade publications and, in a broader concern with the popularity of horror films, public bodies such as the British section of the International Union of Local Authorities and Home Secretary R. A. Butler in a 1958 address to the House of Commons.  At the same time, lurid film posters for “films about horror, sex, and prostitutes" were the subject of controversy and accused of “driving people away from the cinemas” by trade groups heavily representative of the Rank/ABC vertical combines such as the British Film Producers Association, the Federation of British Film Makers, and the distributor-based Kinematograph Renters Society.

Although many X-certificate films in a variety of genres enjoyed successful circuit bookings throughout this period, some producers submitted to cuts to obtain the A rating and thus an easier circuit release for their films, particularly in theaters owned and controlled by the Rank Organisation, but at a trade meeting of the Cinematograph Exhibitors Association, local exhibitor Jim Poole confessed, “I run both the good X films and the bad ones. . . If the producers will give us something to replace this type of product, we’ll be glad to show it. Without X films what are exhibitors going to show?”  Throughout 1958-1960, several solutions to the quandary of X films and the desperate and varied programming strategies of the independent exhibitor were proposed, including a return to the “H” certificate for horror films and the introduction of a new “AA” category for adult-themed films which did not merit the age restriction of the X certificate.  The latter was formally adopted in 1970.

Jacey Cinema chain founder Joseph Cohen (i)
            with Gala Royal manager Kenneth Rive (r)
At the same time that the horror film was fanning the flames of controversy, smaller British distributors (like their American counterparts) began to book a range of imported Continental pictures into theaters suffering from the product shortage. Gala Film Distributors was a distribution firm backed by the Jacey Theatre circuit, a chain that for years had specialized in newsreels and cartoons but which was moving decisively into a mix of art-cinema and exploitation films in programming its group of broadly-defined art cinemas and subsequent-run houses in the London suburbs and the industrial North. Beginning in the mid-1950s, Gala distributed art-house classics (Shoot the Piano Player [1960]), European thrillers (Les diaboliques [1955]),
and exploitation movies such as the Italian horror film I Vampiri (1958), the German JD drama Teenage Wolf Pack (1958), and a 1958 double feature of the decades-old American nudist picture Elysia (1934) and the 1956 Japanese taiyozoku “sun tribe” film Crazed Fruit (dubbed and trimmed to barely an hour under the new title, Juvenile Passion). The nudist film trend in 1958-62 was able to take advantage of reclassification of nudist films by the BBFC as suitable for an A rating as long as nudity was featured “in a documentary way. . . [and not] in an erotic setting.” After this reclassification, a major hit in both ABC houses and non-circuit bookings in the provinces was The Nudist Story (1960), which was handled by Eros Films, another specialist in imports, quota program features, youth pics, and X-certificate horror films such as The Trollenberg Terror (whose later American release title, The Crawling Eye, is the source of this blog's name) and Fiend Without a Face (both 1958). Even Anglo-Amalgamated, the largest and most successful independent distributor in Britain, weighed in with a nudist double feature, Nudist Paradise and Liane, Jungle Goddess (1959) which was a huge hit in both West End and industrial bookings.


In 1959, Anglo's nudist double feature had
            a successful run at the Gala Royal and
           other theaters in the Jacey Cinema circuit.











The power of the major theater circuits, the severe distribution drought, the multiform programming strategies of exhibitors and distributors, and the perplexing fluidity of genres all come together in the saga of Peeping Tom Anglo produced and released Peeping Tom in the 1959-60 season, a time in which the company was scoring big on the ABC circuit with both Horrors of the Black Museum and Carry On Nurse, the second in the long-running comedy series.


The company was undergoing significant expansion in the year of their tenth anniversary, and company heads Nat Cohen and Stuart Levy trumpeted the rising production values of their features and announced their “First Fabulous Five” big budget releases of 1960, which cost a total of a million pounds and included Peeping Tom, an “out-of-the-rut thriller” directed by Michael Powell. 

The marquee name of Michael Powell was ideally suited to convince the ABC circuit and its suburban first-run audiences of the film’s box office potential, since Powell and Pressburger’s features had scored consistently for over a decade in arch-rival Rank’s Odeon and Gaumont chains. This impression was abetted by Powell himself, who described the upcoming production as a “Freudian thriller,” and announced straight-faced to the press that “I think you will find that it has many points in common with The Red Shoes,” not the least of which was the casting of Moira Shearer, the former teenage ballerina from the earlier Archers hit, in a minor role as a bit player at “Shepperfield Studios.”  While Peeping Tom was before the cameras at Pinewood, Powell asserted that
Powell with his son Columba, who plays
           the young Mark, on the set of Peeping Tom
 the stylized color by cinematographer Otto Heller and the meticulously rehearsed and well-crafted performance by leading actor Carl Boehm and the rest of the cast would mute the horrific elements of the story.  “It is not a gruesome picture,” Powell told trade journalist Bill Edwards. “How could I have got such a good cast (Moira Shearer, Anna Massey, Maxine Audley) if it was?”  Edwards must have missed the memo from studio heads Cohen and Levy, because he referred to Peeping Tom as a “prestige picture,” albeit one with a five-week shooting schedule, an ostensible shooting ratio of 1.5 to 1, and extensive use of the Pinewood film studio itself as a “ready-made set.”  Eventually, the budget of the film was slashed in half from the figure touted in trade ads to approximately one hundred thousand pounds.
Stylized color and well-crafted performance:
              Maxine Audley and Anna Massey
A ready-made film set:
               The doomed Vivian enters the studio
As were Anglo’s other releases of 1960, Peeping Tom was clearly crafted with an eye toward the overseas market.
Sexualized gore and a cast from the Continent:
        Anton Differing and Vanda Hudson in
         Anglo's Circus of Horrors (1960)
Although its horror elements were more stylized than the overtly pulpy Circus of Horrors (1960), Powell’s film was designed in part to replicate the success of Horrors of the Black Museum in locations as varied as Paris, Zurich, Bangkok, as well as Greece, Italy, and, crucially, the U.S., the latter through its reciprocal distribution arrangement with AIP.  The casting of twenty one year-old Austrian actor Carl Boehm as the deranged and ostensibly London-born Mark Lewis was a direct attempt to court audiences in c
ontinental Europe, where Boehm was “immensely popular,” and London’s Evening News described him to potential British filmgoers as “[a] Continental version. . . of Dirk Bogarde.” And speaking of “Continental versions” (British trade parlance for international release prints containing more nudity than their domestic
1961 Kamera calendar featuring Green
versions), Peeping Tom’s earliest publicity trumpeted one of the movie’s most singular attractions, “in her first screen role, lovely model Pamela Green, the famous `Kamera' girl.” Green was the most premiere nude pinup model in Britain at the time, and was married to glamour photographer George Harrison Marks; the two had started Kamera magazine in 1957.  At the time Anglo announced Peeping Tom in the trades,  Marks and Green were selling hundreds of thousands of calendars, magazines, and picture sets through both the mail and newsagent shops.*  
Mark directs Milly in Peeping Tom.
              Green designed and built the set in which
              she is posing for a layout in Kamera
Green was cast in the role of Milly, a nude model and one of Mark’s victims.  Green later recalled that Anglo had made sure that members of the trade and popular press were present at Pinewood on the day that she shot her pinup scenes.

From this perspective, the wildly dissonant registers of Peeping Tom’s tonal and generic elements, which generations of critics have perceptively ascribed to a self-conscious alienating effect designed to bare and reveal cinema’s underlying sexual economy, are as much a product of the movie’s prospective distribution and exhibition demands as they are a result of Brechtian design. To be sure, Peeping Tom was crafted as a scalding satire of the British film industry by a director who was already a casualty of the changing movie business, with the prestige star-driven cinema of the Rank empire no where in sight.  In the film's sexual and representational economy, “legitimate” studio filmmaking (portrayed here as the rushed production of quota quickies which are literally made up on the spot) shades into the private “views” shot by Mark within the film, the filmed sadistic psychological experiments inflicted upon him as a child, and the secret murder movies Mark screens in his private theater. This array of modes of exploiting film and photography, each heavily coded by gender, social class, and cultural capital, finds its parallel in the different stages of Peeping Tom’s theatrical playoff, which included a widely-promoted West End premiere, a national booking on the ABC circuit in May similar to other X-certificate horror pictures, hundreds of summer engagements in nine-penny theaters in the industrial North (where nudist pictures, exploitation films, and quota programmers flourished), and markets abroad including the Continent and the U.S.

Although Michael Powell's name appears in the theatrical trailer for
             Peeping Tom, most of the emphasis was placed on horrific elements that
           the film seemed to have in common with Horrors of the Black Museum
As we now know, Anglo's promoting of the film's more upscale elements was a catastrophic failure.  The use of the names Michael Powell and Moira Shearer featured prominently in the lead up to Peeping Tom’s West End premiere, and Anglo hyped its “intensely dramatic and intriguing thriller” by placing an interview with Shearer and an excerpt from the film on the BBC television program Picture Parade  In conjunction with theater owners, Anglo also provided a five-installment serialization of Peeping Tom for local newspapers, a strategy characteristic of high-profile studio releases.  When the film premiered at the Plaza Theater on April 7 for a two-week engagement, on hand were studio heads Cohen and Levy, director Powell, and stars Carl Boehm, Moira Shearer, Anna Massey, and Pamela Green.
Anglo's Stuart Levy and Nat Cohen with Carl Boehm
            and Pamela Green at Peeping Tom's premiere
                at the Plaza on April 7, 1960
Massey and Green recall the chilly reception they received from industry colleagues and members of the trade press at the premiere, and the critical response was swift and savage. Most famously, Leonard Moseley of Daily Express confessed that “neither the hopeless leper colonies of East Pakistan. . . 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."  Nina Hibben of the Daily Worker opined that “from its slumbering, mildly salacious beginning, to its sadomasochistic and depraved climax, it is wholly evil,” and Derek Hill of the Tribune suggested that “the only way to dispose of Peeping Tom would be to shovel it up and flush it swiftly down the nearest sewer. Even then the stench would remain."  Many of the negative reviews struggled to categorize the admittedly skillfully-made film which avoided the supernatural and gothic horror-film clichés easily “dismissed as risible” and which deftly engaged audiences emotionally in the inner lives of its characters.  Isabel Quigly in the Times was angered and bewildered by the film’s juxtaposition of violent paraphilia with finely-crafted performances, moody longeurs, and psychological depth. Trade sources, on the other hand, correctly predicted that its exploitable angles, vivid use of color, and excellent acting performances would help it “do very well as an X certificate booking,” and a fortnight later, columnist Josh Billings noted that “a savagely hostile press didn’t prevent Peeping Tom from scoring steadily during its two weeks stay at the Plaza.”


Much of the received wisdom of Peeping Tom’s “cursed film” status comes from its abbreviated run on the ABC circuit, which began on May 23. Derek Hill’s jeremiad against the film ended with an entreaty to suburban audiences to avoid the film’s circuit release once Peeping Tom’s West End engagement came to an end.  In fact, the film “opened to huge figures” in pre-release engagements in Bristol, Bath, Leicester, Doncaster, and other locations “in spite of, or because of, its extraordinary press reception,” and was described by Billings on the eve of its circuit release as “the answer to every live showman’s prayer.”  But two years of controversy about lobby displays, posters, horror films, nudist films released with the A-certificate, exploitation pictures carrying the X-certificate, and nudie magazines such as Kamera, as well as the Anglo release’s “titillating title” had laid a trap for the film which local constabularies and watch committees were only too eager to spring. The Reading watch committee banned the film from chain houses under its authority based solely on the synopsis in Anglo’s press kit and “the reviews [they] read in responsible newspapers and journals which criticized the film.”  The same thing happened in other localities, and despite the film’s “clicking” in many engagements, the ABC chain (unlike subsequent-run and industrial theaters who had to scramble for commercially viable product to book) removed Peeping Tom from its program after a week. This is the source of the legend that the film was quickly “yanked from distribution” and consigned to oblivion.

        But on June 9, Anglo returned Peeping Tom to the West End for an engagement at the Gala Royal theater at Marble Arch.  This West End re-booking of Peeping Tom existed alongside other downtown summer bookings from Gala’s distribution arm which included Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), Le Testament d’Orphée (1959), the 1958 French import Péché de jeunesse aka Sins of Youth (“The Fire of Heaven is in Their Bodies, But The Parents See Only the Flames of Hell!”)  For Peeping Tom's Gala Royal run, manager Kenneth Rive festooned the theater’s front with signs quoting the most damning critical assessments of the film, including those by Moseley, Hibben, and Hill, and once again, long queues for Peeping Tom were seen in the West End.

Jacey's Cinephone Theatre on Bristol Street in Birmingham
                 enjoyed a successful run of Peeping Tom
             in the summer of 1960
The Daily Mail
noted that this sensationalist come-on at the Gala/Jacey Cinema circuit flagship coincided with the firm’s purchase of an additional seven provincial theaters, and the growing Jacey chain would parlay the succès de scandale of Peeping Tom into an effective launch of their expanded circuit during the last half of 1960.

This was not unanticipated: in the middle of the film’s vituperative press reception during the Plaza engagement, Josh Billings asserted that “its time will come later."  The Gala Royal engagement marked the beginning of Peeping Tom’s successful release in smaller provincial houses which were suspicious of “prestige” films designed exclusively for West End audiences and who still needed Anglo features in commercial genres.  During this phase of the film’s playoff, Powell’s name was seen less than that of  Kamera girl” Green, who noted in retrospect that “for most of the publicity purposes, my pictures were used as there seemed to be hardly anything available from the publicity department."  Although removed at the last minute from British release prints, the brief glimpse of nudity before Milly’s demise was designed to help bookings of the film on the Continent, with Powell’s pre-release claim that he found both nudity and Continental versions of British films “boring” conveniently forgotten.  

The film was increasingly booked as an adults-only engagement, and under these terms, Reading lifted its ban on the film for non-circuit bookings in July.  During the hot summer when attendance usually fell, Kine Weekly noted that Peeping Tom continued to bring in crowds at the Gala Royal and in “suburban and provincial halls.”  By late summer, trade sources noted that the film was “playing to very large audiences all over the country."  It was approved for adults-only exhibition in Ireland, and Josh Billings could proclaim that “Critics threw the book at Peeping Tom, [but the Gala Royal and other
Jacey and provincial cinemas] threw the book back.”  However, AIP, Anglo’s Americanpartner, passed on the film, and its U.S. release was handled by Gala-like artcinema/exploitation distributor Astor Pictures, who booked it into a range of supporting engagements in American drive-ins, inner-city theaters, and early adopters of the adults-only admissions policy.

The case of Peeping Tom illustrates the centrality of distribution and exhibition to the production and reception of bold and experimental commercial cinema. Powell’s film has been called an “independent” production, but it was independent only of former partner Pressburger and the powerful Rank interests that had sustained the pair for a decade. In 1959-60, Peeping Tom was very much a product of its financier/distributor Anglo Amalgamated and the exhibition environment in which they were operating.  Powell would have been acutely aware of this environment and committed to success within it, since the first of the five points in the Archers’ 1942 manifesto read, “We owe allegiance to nobody except the financial interests which provide our money; and, to them, the sole responsibility of ensuring them a profit, not a loss."  Contrary to received wisdom, Powell appears to have met this responsibility with Peeping Tom. The commercially-driven conventions within which Powell and screenwriter Leo Marks were working in 1959 enabled, not debilitated, their creation of the  bold striations of style and tone in Peeping Tom.  The film grew out of rather than opposed important trends in the movie business of the time, most notably in distribution and exhibition. Further, the critical outrage which greeted the film was as much a result of its confounding categories between the prestige film, the circuit release, and the program feature for provincial halls as it was of the actual licentiousness and mayhem on display. In short, the same features which resulted in the film’s lamented and lambasted commercial success in 1960 later led to its valorization as a masterpiece of modernist cinema and one of the most influential films ever made.

          
            The opening shot of Peeping Tom
The cover of David Bowie's 1972 LP,
               The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars

* Kamera was by far the most sophisticated and artistically ambitious British glamour magazine of the late 1950s.  Its pages featured Pamela and an extraordinary group of models in Marks’ exquisite photo layouts which were designed by Green, herself an accomplished writer, artist, photographer, and designer. Green passed away in 2010, but in her retirement years on the Isle of Wight, she presided over an incredibly detailed, profusely illustrated, and well-written website and blog, “Never Knowingly Overdressed,” in which she recounted her career with Marks and Kamera magazine.  Her lengthy account of Peeping Tom's casting, shooting, and hostile reception is essential reading.  


This essay is part of a much longer and more detailed consideration of the role distribution plays in the changing horror film which appears in A Companion to the Horror Film, edited by Harry M. Behshoff (2014), published by Wiley-Blackwell.  I owe many thanks to Harry and to Julian Petley for their excellent feedback on several earlier drafts of this piece.  An Amazon link to the book can be found in my previous blog entry on Kim Ji-Woon's A Tale of Two Sisters.  Here are links to other sources on Powell, British cinema, Peeping Tom, Pamela Green and Kamera, and postwar American and British horror films.

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