A copy of this film was sent to me by the wonderful people at the Unnamed Footage Festival.
In a lot of Found Footage-style films the characters always discuss how they have to “film everything,” but rarely do we get a film that plays with that idea the way James Schmitz’s Peeping Tommy does. Peeping Tommy follows a few months in the life of a San Francisco man, John Doe 47, aka Peeping Tommy (Marc Stern, who also produced the film), a military veteran who wanders the streets, filming his entire life. Through these day-to-day activities (often mundane, but always interesting) we get to know Tommy quite well, as he interacts with people on the streets, ventures into strip clubs and porn shops, and occasionally focuses on little things he finds along his way that he finds interesting. Eventually he comes across a woman named Desire (Elaine Bryant) and decides he wants to know more about her, adding stalking her to his daily routine.
What makes Peeping Tommy stand out is its usage of CCTV and other various security camera footage. With the constant filming of Tommy’s life — as he claims he needs to do since he often can’t remember things — it’s fascinating to watch the security camera footage filming him back. Tommy is constantly wandering around and filming people without permission, and that becomes a fascinating juxtaposition in themes with the idea that he is not only filming the world without others’ knowledge, but the world is also filming him back. There’s even a wonderful moment where Tommy turns and sees one of the security cameras and begins to film it in response. It’s a fascinating and terrifying display of the idea that someone out there is most likely filming your every move.
The cinematography in this film is also something special. It bounces between typical handheld footage style, as Tommy is obviously trying to hide the camera a lot of the time, but also often contains some very beautiful shots. This adds to the realism of the film. As with a man who is filming his life constantly, he’s eventually going to become better at shooting things as time progresses and painting some gorgeous pictures.
There are a few moments of disbelief with the camera, very specifically in the strip club, where I can’t imagine Tommy getting specific angles without anyone noticing. It took me out of the movie once or twice, but honestly, that’s really the only critique I can give this film. Peeping Tommy was just really quite wonderful. Clocking in at just under 50 minutes long, Peeping Tommy is a tight little film that never overstays it’s welcome.
Within the style of First Person cinema we get a lot of fun stuff, a lot of junk, and a lot of in-between. Honestly, Peeping Tommy transcends what we usually see with these kinds of films, very specifically with the balance of Tommy filming the world and the world filming Tommy back. It’s a fascinating study on this style of filmmaking. I applaud James Schmitz and everyone involved with bringing something unique like this to the table.
The Unnamed Footage Festival is a festival celebrating all that is First Person Cinema, such as Found Footage, POV, and Mockumentary style films. This year marks the third year for this San Francisco festival.