To Conquer Fear Is The Beginning Of Wisdom

And why not quote Bertrand Russell as a tag line for a few recent acquisitions. Of course Russell meant something more than just overcoming fear in a controlled environment as a movie theatre. Fear is one of man’s primal emotions. It’s negative and brings loss of control. Overcoming fear is acquiring knowledge. Fear is synonymous with a lack of knowledge. Basically Russell’s argument is that fear for the unknown is not a problem, fear is the unknown. Therefore fear breeds superstition and cruelty. Funny thing is that in most movies the audience overcomes fear by witnessing superstition, cruelty and/or the unknown.

Sometimes people are so afraid of what’s in a movie they not only choose not to see it, but also don’t want others to see it. That famously was the case with PEEPING TOM.

Italian due foglio (39x55") for the 1968 re-release of PEEPING TOM

Peeping Tom was relentlessly slashed by the critics who found it distasteful beyond relief. The idea of a murderous cameraman and the subject of the “morbid urge to gaze” stirred all kinds of fears in the critics mind, especially about their own status and importance in the world of cinema. Was Michael Powell taking the piss shooting a low-art slasher while at the same time filling the plot with all kinds of references to English mainstream cinema? They simple could not tell why it was so ghastly, most of them just shouted abuse. A classic sign of fear I’d say.

If I would ever make an all-time favourite list of movies PT would score very, especially in the category opening sequences:


The distributors of PT got also very afraid. As a B-company Anglo-Amalgamated had hoped to raise their credibility with a big name as Michael Powell. In stead they got this critical deluge. They did not know how quick to get rid of the picture. As a consequence PEEPING TOM had a very limited release in 1960.

The Italian due foglio that I’ve picked up recently is great example of the poster campaign of the picture. Both in the original and later releases, except for the release of Peeping Tom in the US, the eye of the voyeur is a central theme. It is also a great example of Italian movie advertising. Italian art is often very spectacular, especially for lesser known titles with lesser known stars. The woman pictured in the poster is not really representative of the women in Peeping Tom. She has a glossy, sensational image. The women in the movie really look quite different.

One of the more deliberated arguments against Peeping Tom was based on the fact that Michael Powell had used his son Columba in flash back scenes where the father of the cameraman carries out psychological experiments on his son. That brings me to my other recent acquisition of a PEEPING TOM poster.

I got this poster in an auction to raise money for the effects of the Japan tsunami disaster.It is signed by Columba Powell.

Peeping Tom fotobusta (18x26") re-release 1968, signed by Columba Powell

Last year I’ve met Columba twice and I am happy to report that he has suffered no long-time effects of the trials of filming Peeping Tom.  I’ve written earlier about my first meeting in my other blog: Million-Dollar Weekend. The second time I ran into him was at the screening of PEEPING TOM for the 5o Year Anniversary of the film in London last November. I happened to sit exactly one row in front of him, so I’ve enjoyed the screening of PT accompanied by the chuckling, grinning and laughing by the same person who was “experimented on” by his father in the movie.

Anthony Hopkins as base-baller Jim Piersall also had to deal with his father, albeit in a very different way.

FEAR STRIKES OUT US three sheet (41x81")

He had to cope with the high expectations of his father and the personal fears that go with those in FEAR STRIKES OUT. This US three sheet poster (41×81″) nicely portrays these fears. The man sheltering the woman against the enormous portrait of himself.  I like it even more, because it is Anthony Perkins. He has the most subtle glint in his eyes of every actor I’ve seen. I’m sure no-one will forget the look in his eyes in the final scene of PSYCHO. Here he has the smile of the All-American sportsman pin-up, but you see the anxiety and his mental health issues coming through the smile.

Mental health and tricks of the mind always have been favourite ground for fear-driven stories and plots. Here’s another Italian poster, this one a really big two-part quatro foglio (55×78″), for LES DIABOLIQUES, another must see film by Henri-Georges Clouzot, the French equivalent of Alfred Hitchcock. The film is a text book case of how tricks of the light match tricks of the mind.


The Italian poster of course zooms in on the spectacular.

LES DIABOLIQUES Italian quattro foglio (55x79")

I’m not quite sure which actress the poster artist has tried to portray, Simone Signoret or Vera Clouzot (probably the latter), but it is pretty obvious he knows how to portray the maelstrom of fear in the context of a murder with a bath.

Green and yellow are excellent colour choices for a poster like this. They are the prime colours to represent fear, especially fear in the context of the horror genre. For example in the movies the Monster of Frankenstein is green and many poster design with the monster are as well, while his creator Mary Shelley described him as yellow.

My last entry is a true horror poster as it is one for a zombie flick by Jean Rollin who died only recently. I like zombie movies better than other horror movies, maybe because the terror from a monster is much less scary than terror from a human being. Anyway, it’s a German poster for LES RAISINS DE LA MORT (The Grapes Of Death) which is as good a title as any. It is green of course with lovely zombie heads, created this time by pesticides, harassing some perfectly scanty-clad women.

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