Hey folks, Harry here with a nice piece by James Clarke upon a screening of the brilliant & disturbing PEEPING TOM by Michael Powell that took place in London last night with a very killer cool cast of characters on hand to discuss it. The notion of getting to see Scorsese, Schoonmaker along with Anna Massey and Columba Powell... well, that's a euphoric cinematic experience that one should be willing to share with the world, and I, for one... am grateful to James Clarke for sharing his experience of last night. So here's something a bit different, but always welcomed here at AICN. Now if after reading this - you instantly have a notion of watching PEEPING TOM, just click that link and you'll see it.
Some of the Ways We Love Movies: Notes from the Screening of Peeping Tom at the Curzon cinema , Soho, London (November 13th 2010) and the Discussion with Martin Scorsese, Thelma Schoonmaker, Anna Massey and Columba Powell. By James Clarke, November 13th 2010Full Circle It was fitting to hear tracks from the album Exile on Main Street play as we took our seats at the Curzon cinema, Soho, London last night. (I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed the track Torn and Frayed.) Certainly, The Rolling Stones and Martin Scorsese go way back and, as many of you will doubtless know, so, too, does Scorsese’s enthusiasm for the films of director Michael Powell. The enthusiasm Scorsese has for Powell would, I imagine equate to our fascination with Scorsese’s films. Which doesn’t preclude us from being fascinated by Powell or any other director of course. It’s Scorsese who directed one of my all time favourite end scenes to a film in his adaptation of The Age of Innocence. When I was in my mid-teens and really beginning to realize how I wished I could take film intravenously my dad bought me the book Scorsese on Scorsese for Christmas. At the time, this first edition took the reader through to the late 1980s, to Scorsese’s most recent work at that time: The Last Temptation of Christ and Life Lessons (to this day one of my favourite Martin Scrosese films and a reminder of how much more I tend to enjoy his non-crime movies). To this day the way Scorsese talks about cinema never fails to remind me of why cinema fascinates. For me, attending the screening of Peeping Tom last night and getting to see Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker in person did, I think, rather brought me full circle in terms of my movie love. Peeping Tom We were at the Curzon, then, to see a new print of the Michael Powell directed film Peeping Tom. I hadn’t seen the film in a long while, having only seen it just once before on late night BBC tv during my arguably ‘over-earnest’ teenage movie viewing days. I watched it back then, because…well, because if Martin Scorsese had said it was worth seeing then that was enough of a recommendation for me. Of that first and only viewing I remember finding Karl Boehm’s performance unsettling not so much for the psychology on display but on account of his performance. Seeing the film again last night I realized how accomplished the performance was. It made me think, too, of the film Henry: Portrait of A Serial Killer. My memory may be on shaky ground here but my recollection of that film was that it accomplished the same uneasy feat of Peeping Tom in inviting us to understand the killer’s mindset. As I watched Peeping Tom this evening on the big screen it also made me think: did this presentation of a bad guy with whom we feel significant sympathy inform the presentation of Joe Pesci’s character in Martin Scorsese’s Casino. Remember the ending of that one ? Powell’s film, then, was indeed dazzling to watch again last night, as enjoyable for its deployment of judicious visual flourishes (the tracking shots in the scenes in Mark’s studio for example), as for its melodic, and brilliantly designed and placed, spot effect of water dripping as Helen (portrayed by Anna Massey) explores the cave-like photo studio in Mark’s flat. The Conversation With the film finished I looked over at the door to Screen 1 and there was Martin Scorsese walking in, followed by Thelma Schoonmaker, Anna Massey and Columba Powell. They took to their seats (‘director’s’ chairs) on the stage. They had a full house to talk to and there was that welcome sense of excitement across the audience. As the conversation got underway and Scorsese referred occasionally to his own movies (Raging Bull for example) I was reminded of just how oft-narrated the making of Scorsese’s films have been. It sounds a little obvious to say but as I sat there I found myself thinking that for that man there on the stage those films actually happened as a day to day reality and now here he was on a cold November night in a central London cinema. I have to say, having Scorsese and Schoonmaker, two people I have read so many interviews with, and seen talking on television and DVD, made for that feeling you get if you attend any live show of a favourite band or performer: it’s really, really them. (I had the same experience earlier this year when I interviewed George Lucas by telephone for a book that I am writing.) Also present at the Peeping Tom screening were the wife of the film’s writer Leo Marks and also the film’s editor Noreen Ackland. Of the editing style used in the film Thelma Schoonmaker commented on how modern and undated it felt. Certainly, for Scorsese, as he addressed in the conversation, the film remains fresh and potent and, by extension, especially relevant in the YouTube moment we currently live in where “there is no privacy.” Francine Stock, writer and broadcaster, moderated this post-screening conversation which roamed across Michael Powell’s influence on Scorsese’s sense of what narrative cinema could be, how the making of the film felt (Anna Massey offered up an acute description of the intensity with which the film was made) and the shock experienced by the film’s producers and performers in terms of the original reviews and reactions to the film. Anna Massey noted, too, that the prospect of failure or disapproval for the film had not been “entertained’’ during its production. Her most fascinating observation, though, was the comment that shooting the final sequence in Mark’s studio was “very haunting” in its atmosphere and intricacy of set up. Powell’s son Columba was present also and talked about the home movie sequence of the film, in which he featured as a boy of around eight nine years of age, and how it had been shot in just a few hours. Thelma Schoonmaker and Martin Scorsese looked truly astonished when Columba reported this. In fairness, Scorsese then chipped in “You shot on 16mm, right ? “ for the sequence and Columba confirmed this and the speedy shoot seemed more reasonable. Columba made the observation that when the sequence was shot he had no real sense of how it fitted into a feature film that his dad was making at the time. It was “just home movies” was Columba’s recollection. At one point the discussion turned to comparing Peeping Tom with the film Blow Up, similarly concerned with obsessive image making and scopophilia. Of Peeping Tom, in contrast to Blow Up, Scorsese said: “it doesn’t take on the question of existence, it is.” He then went on to talk about the audience’s acceptance of horror and made the point that at the time of Peeping Tom’s release, Hammer Films were releasing films that one might readily find unsettling and yet they didn’t seem to stir up reviewers and critics in anything like the same way that Peeping Tom did. Of the film’s visual style Scorsese commented that “ the composition – it’s like a stripped down Powell film.” Scorsese mentioned how the film stood in such stark contrast to Powell’s more elaborately designed films: The Red Shoes and Tales of Hoffmann for example. For him, Peeping Tom got to an “essential” Michael Powell film style. In discussing film style, and, by extension, the technology used to make films (every film is a special effect as Robert Zemeckis has observed) Scorsese talked a little about the film he is currently directing, although he did not identify it by name. This new film is an adaptation of The Invention of Hugo Cabret. It will be fascinating, I think, to see Scorsese deal with a story centred around a child again after his work on Kundun and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Scorsese amusingly recounted how, on the Cabret shoot, he has often had to remind himself that the 3D camera on which the film is being shot is in fact a film camera on account of its size and engineering. Scorsese did say that the challenge of 3D filming was that in a key way it took filmmaking back to basics in terms of working with a large camera and on a production where “the crew is triple...(and) at times I don’t recognize the camera is 3D.”. There wasn’t a Q and A opportunity at the event but I would have very much liked to hear Martin Scorsese’s answer to the question that I would have asked: was he bringing to bear the influence of Powell’s visual style to the Cabret adaptation ? Maybe I am just making a wish-fulfilment leap of imagination here, though. That’s one of the pleasures of being a film fan of course. Why We Love Movies If you visit this site, and countless other connected ones, then you love movies and the screening and discussion afterward reminded me of the ‘movie love’ that exists. To sit and listen to a discussion with highly accomplished artists was a thrill and, for me at least, reminded me of why cinema has meant so much to me. Of course, Peeping Tom itself includes the line “All this filming isn’t healthy.” (the audience chuckled) and yet not a day goes by where we aren’t thinking about film in some way or another: our favourite scenes, our favourite characters, an idea for a film, what we thought of the film we saw the other day, the challenge of making a film whatever the subject or scale. Scorsese commented that “it’s very difficult” in translating what he’s envisioning into the staging and composition of a scene. Scorsese said how true the moment was when Mark pounds the wall with his fists in terms of never being satisfied with a project. This creative challenge is something Martin Scorsese has always talked fascinatingly about and so it was great to hear him address it in the discussion. As ever, Scorsese, was enthusiastic and focused in explaining his own fascination with Powell’s films and true to form he made one of those vintage observations about the filmmaking process, saying that it’s as though you’re “trying to live through cinema as you’re making it.” Coda: Just before the lights went down for the screening of the film I glanced around the place and saw that at the end of the row on which I was sitting was the actor Ben Kingsley. James’s new book is the forthcoming Movie Movements (Kamera Books), published in the UK on January 18th 2011 and in March 2011 in North America. jasclarkewriter