February 2017


From its early days cinema has showcased violence.

Whether it was boxing matches or recreations of historical events violence has been infused into the very nature of the medium. If we believe the old story about the Lumière Brothers scaring their Paris audience the beginning of Cinema was a violent act in itself. With this presentation of violence came politics. Perhaps it was the accessibility of cinema that made it open to more political interference than literature or theatre (although these were also messed with), the fear that the plebs, who wouldn’t/couldn’t read or understand high culture, would be corrupted by this new form. Early on movies were being banned for their violence, but sometimes the reasons were as much politically motivated as out of a ‘duty’ to protect the masses; in the US one early boxing film was banned on racial grounds, as it showed a black boxer beating a white boxer, undermining the ‘inherent’ superiority of the white race.

The dominant discourse on violence today remains rooted in the spurious effects debate. Every so often a film is seen to be the cause of society’s ills, or it offers the potential to corrupt and degrade. A cursory glance at the history of Hollywood film offers a list of titles that have been suggested as, but never proven to be, the inspiration for real acts of violence. Films such as Rebel Without a Cause, Taxi Driver, Natural Born Killers, Scream, Child’s Play 3, not to mention the litany of 1980s Video Nasties have been implicated. But this debate fundamentally lacks an understanding of the complicated ways in which the audience experiences film violence. In this article I’ll outline some of those ways, in the hope that we can move the debate a little further from the purview of the Daily Mail.

Before, During, After

The paratext are the texts that surround and inform any individual text. Generally speaking we don’t watch movies in a vacuum, particularly now as we’re constantly bombarded with trailers, posters, websites and even trailers for trailers. These elements, also known as the Narrative Image, inform and mediate our responses to cinema, including how we understand the violence. In short our experience and understanding of film violence occurs before (paratext), during (spectating) and after the film (in the ways we remake the film in our memories, how they compare to other texts, etc). Beyond these paratextual elements are the social and political contexts that inform the text and our responses. To give a brief example most film students are forced to watch the Odessa Steps sequence from Battleship Potemkin (Sergei Eisenstein, 1925). But the context of watching this in the 21st Century, in Europe, can’t match the context of post-revolutionary Russia, or interwar Britain where the film was banned. Our approach to the film is framed by these paratextual elements of expectation where a genre, title or star, can confirm or subvert.

Generic and narrative expectations are another major part of this experience, elements which are, by and large, set by the narrative image. The Western is a genre that depends on violence – the narrative is organised around the final shoot-out, the showdown between protagonist and antagonist. It would be ridiculous to watch a mainstream Western then and be surprised by the violence in the final scenes. The emotional response to such a moment is therefore conditioned by expectation. Films that muddy the generic/narrative waters generate different responses. Take the violence in Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro, 2006). The film is framed as a fairytale of sorts, in which a small girl (evoking characters like Alice), explores a world of fantastic creatures. Then a man has his face bashed in with a bottle. Nothing in the narrative/genre has suggested this event, the impact is greater.

These elements of genre/narrative and paratext also condition the modality of the films. Modality is the level of reality that we ascribe to a message. For instance the News has a higher modality than Tom and Jerry; one presents itself as a true representation of reality, the other is a cartoon in which impossible events occur. Films generally exist somewhere between these two extremes. A film that employs documentary style camera work conveys a higher modality than one that involves impossible CGI shots. Similarly the advertising of a film can stress fantastic or realistic elements. Early coverage for The Blair Witch Project presented the film as true, that the footage had been recovered. For those early audiences the film had a high modality, creating a different response to later viewers who watched is as part of the normal horror genre.

Elements of Film Violence

If our approach to film violence is conditioned before we even sit in the cinema what then of the films themselves? One cannot hope to fully elucidate the complexities of this in a short essay, but I can outline a few significant elements.

Prince (1998) breaks film violence down into three elements; the referential act, the stylistic encoding and the stylistic amplitude. The referential act is the act of violence that the film depicts. Our understanding of this is complicated in itself. Has the audience experienced this act themselves, or seen it before in other films and media? Each act of violence in a film is seen in comparison to other films and the real world. Increasingly the violence we see bears no resemblance to our life experience – our referent becomes other films. The stylistic encoding is how the referential act is depicted in the film, the shots used, the sound, etc. Take for comparison the finales of High Noon (Fred Zinneman, 1952) and Dirty Harry (Don Siegel, 1971). In High Noon the hero, Will Kane, shoots the villain Frank Miller with a single bullet. It takes 5 seconds of screen time and is shown in a single shot from where Kane stands, leaving Miller in the background. When Harry shoots Scorpio over 8 single shots are shown, taking just over a minute of screen time. When Scorpio is hot we see, from multiple angles, him thrown backwards, blood spurting from his body; the same referential act, encoding in two very different styles.

The final aspect, the Stylistic Amplitude, covers ideas of graphicness and duration of the encoded act. In essence the more graphic the depiction the greater the duration. The more of the violence we see the more significant it is in the film’s running time. As a general trend in Hollywood cinema more time is given over to violence in movies.

Positioning the Audience

As a final issue we need to consider how the film positions its audience in relation to the characters that enact violence. There are two positions available, one subjective (we watch/follow/align with a character(s)), the other objective (we are not aligned with anyone, we watch separate from the action). This makes a big difference in how we relate to a film. The subjective camera, using shots like point of view, implied point of view and over shoulder, invite us to partake in the violence. Narrative techniques, such as narration, further encourage our identification with characters and violence (a good example of this is Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)). The objective camera keeps us at a distance, although we still align with a protagonist through convention, leaving our involvement as less participatory.

In Conclusion

Moving the discussion about film violence away from the tabloid headlines and towards a technical understanding of cinema and its audience is essential if we’re ever to puzzle out how and why people watch violent films. If we can do that we may be able to finally kill off the histrionic exaggerations, with or without the use of a shotgun.

Works Cited

Prince, Stephen (1998) Savage Cinema: Sam Peckinpah and the Rise of Ultraviolent Movies. Austin: University of Texas Press

It has occurred to me that within the confines of the Superhero sub-genre that so dominates modern Hollywood output that there is a single relationship that underpins the Superheroes’ actions and their relationships to order and society. This relationship is between the Superhero and his father. Several recent releases reiterate this relationship, but it has its most clear articulation in Superman (Richard Donner, 1978) the film that set a structural template for the Superhero film. Thinking of fathers inevitably leads to Freud, Jung, et al and I’m going to use this post to suggest some ideas about the relationship between the Superhero and his father. The psychoanalytic ideas I shall refer to are those of the Symbolic Order and the Father Complex to highlight an essential structural element of this style of film. By investigating this we will see how the structure of the Super-Hero film hinges on the resolution of the subject/father relationship.

The relationship between the Superhero and his Father is a dominant theme in all the major Super-Hero releases from the past 30 years. For the purposes of this paper I will refer to Superman, X-Men (Bryan Singer, 2000), Spiderman (Sam Raimi, 2002), Daredevil (Mark Stephen Johnson, 2003), Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan, 2005), The Green Hornet (Michel Gondry, 2011) and Green Lantern (Martin Campbell, 2011). Each of these films articulates a father/son relationship that must be resolved for the hero to achieve their aims – a clear instance of the father complex (where the subject is formed/dependent on the father).  In several of these films the father figure is not a relation but another who assumes the patriarchal relation, such as Uncle Ben in Spiderman or Professor Xavier in X-Men, however it is their role as the representative of symbolic order, as a force which imposes law and regulates desire that is important. Often it is the removal of the father by a violent act that operates as the catalyst for the plot in these films (i.e. there is no Batman without the death of Bruce Wayne’s father Thomas).

The Traumatic Father

An initial trauma concerning the father can be seen across many of these films. The attempts to cope with the traumas, and the subsequent resolutions, are what drive the films forward. In Superman this is as dual trauma as two fathers are present; both die prematurely and the conflict of the central character’s choice between the two, forms much of the dramatic axis. Superman/Clark Kent/Kal-El has been passed from one father to another and so moves between two opposing Names of the Father/Symbolic Orders. The two father figures in Superman are opposed; there is the god-like natural father Jor-El who initially exists in relation to Kal-El as the perfect Real Father- his relationship existing in Kal-El’s pre-linguistic state.  However through the use of audio recordings and teaching he becomes the representative of one type of Symbolic Father, imposing language and order onto the young child as he travels to earth. However Jor-El is subsequently displaced by the adoptive human father, Jonathan Kent. Kent is presented as distinctly human, preaching home-spun wisdom rather than the universal forms that Jor-El communicates.  At this point Jor-El moves into being representative of the Imaginary Father, a fantasy projection of the imaginary ideal on which Clarke models his Superman persona, represented by the command of Jor-El that;

The father becomes the son, and the son becomes the father.

In Superman’s decision to reject the rules of Jor-El and to change time to save Lois Lane from death we see a rejection of one, non-interventionist symbolic order (and the imaginary father), to another that approves of compassion – the acceptance of an alternative symbolic order. The human has triumphed over the divine, Jonathan has defeated Jor-El (this is especially so in the special edition which contains a scene explicitly dramatizing this conflict).

This acceptance of the Name-of-the-Father is a key element of these films. The reconciliation of the Superhero to their fathers signals an acceptance of the symbolic father and the rules and morality associated with them. In Batman Begins Bruce Wayne initially rejects the rules of the Symbolic Father in his quest for vengeance. His father, a doctor and philanthropist, was defined by his compassion. At this point in the narrative Bruce Wayne attempts to shoot his parents’ murderer, Joe Chill, but is thwarted by another assassin.  This failure prompts a movement to China where Wayne takes up with a surrogate father Henri Ducard who teaches Wayne the physical skills required to complete his quest for vengeance. However it is Wayne’s rejection of Ducard’s invocation to kill and eventual acceptance of his Father’s principles that leads to him ascending into heroic status and becoming Batman. Similar to Superman, who dramatizes his conflict in his dual persona, a tension arises between the Batman and Wayne characters. Ironically it is the Batman figure who takes the place of Wayne’s father as a caretaker of Gotham, whereas Bruce Wayne becomes a mask.

Similarly problematic schisms with father figures occur in both The Green Hornet and Green Lantern. In The Green Hornet Britt Reed initially rejects the rules of his father, behaving in irresponsible and childish ways. His ascendancy to hero status comes at the realisation of his father’s true worth at which point he endeavours to uphold the journalistic ideas his father held dear. In Green Lantern Hal Jordan is crippled by fear, an anxiety picked up by watching his own father die in a plane crash. It is only by realising that the image of his father that he holds is an imaginary ideal that he can fully take his place in the Symbolic Order. By rejecting the Imaginary Father of his own ego-construct and embracing the lessons imparted by the Symbolic father, Jordan is able to conquer his own fear and save the planet from the fear entity Parallax.

The Surrogate Father

Spiderman & X-Men both use surrogate father figure to depict this resistance of entry into the symbolic order.  For Peter Parker Uncle Ben occupies the place of the father. It is Parker’s rejection of his uncle’s teaching that leads to the uncle’s death. Only by embracing his Uncle’s axiom that;

With great power comes great responsibility,

can Parker take his place in the social order. In X-Men Charles Xavier presents a different father figure in that he remains constant throughout the film, with no traumatic separation. However it is Wolverine’s/Logan’s rejection of the Symbolic Order that brings him two Xavier’s School. By taking his place there, and accepting Xavier as the Symbolic Father, Wolverine is able to learn about himself. In X-Men 2 a conflict between an opposing father, General Stryker, is created in which Wolverine/Logan is given a choice. By choosing Xavier, and rejecting his creation at the hands of Stryker, a relationship similar to the Jor-El/Jonathan Kent dynamic is revealed.

The Failing Father

In Daredevil a dissonance about the relationship between the Imaginary Father and the actual father underpins the motivation of the central character.  Matt Murdock believes his father to be a hard-working ex-boxer. When he discovers that he is actually a hired thug for a local mobster he runs away – a trauma that leads directly to his loss of sight. Full of grief Murdock senior cleans up his act, but this just leads to the traumatic event (his death at the hands of The Kingpin) that creates Daredevil. Murdock achieves resolution by defeating The Kingpin and resolving himself to be the type of man his father should have been.

Final Thoughts

I have written this to give a broad overview of the father issues present in the genre with a limited number of examples. However father complexes are clearly visible in Thor (Kenneth Brannagh, 2011) between Thor and Odin, and Loki and Odin; Superman Returns (Bryan Singer, 2006) between Superman and Jason; Batman (Tim Burton, 1989) between Wayne & his father but also, in a twisted echo, between Batman and the Joker; Batman Returns (Tim Burton, 1992) between The Penguin and his father; and Kick Ass (Mathew Vaughn, 2010) this time with a daughter – Hit-Girl and Big-Daddy). One wonders whether a female oriented Super-Hero film, Wonder Woman maybe, would replicate this dramatic axis, or replace it with a mother anxiety instead?

I’m a Columbo fan. It’s a great way to while away a quiet afternoon watching the excellent, and sadly departed, Peter Falk trick another unsuspecting big shot into thinking he’s an idiot, when all the while he’s working the whole thing out. It’s structurally entertaining, shifting the drama to a battle of wits, by revealing the murderer’s identity in the first third, rather than following the traditional structure laid down by Agatha Christie, et al. It also contains some wonderful cameos, with each episode throwing us another Hollywood name who is either on their uppers, or just enjoyed the fun of the role.

What occurred to me the other day was the realization that it wasn’t just the show’s structure that made it different – it was its politics. Here is a mainstream American show that espouses a Marxist viewpoint (bear with me). Each episode of Columbo begins with a member of high society (the bourgeoisie) committing what they think is the perfect murder. The motive is invariably for financial gain, for the acquisition of capital. In walks Columbo, a classic member of the proletariat. He dresses badly, has a terrible car, and seems oblivious to the codes of behavior of ‘high society’. But through application of thought alone, and using his shabby status to expose the prejudices of the bourgeoisie (how could such a scruffy man possibly represent a threat?) he exposes the hollow, money grabbing elite for what they are. The show flips the assumptions of Capitalist society, that worth only comes through acquisition of capital, and shows how capitalist desire leads to an abandonment of moral principals. Columbo is above all a moral figure, loyal to his job, his wife and his dog. Set against this are the money grabbers, willing to kill anyone who comes in the way of their advancement.

PS. It’s also an example of the Daoist idea of the virtue of the small. Read the Te of Piglet by Benjamin Hoff for more of this.

The November Man is overall a silly film, a later entry into the Liam Neeson/Taken inspired Geri-Action series. This time Pierce Brosnan dusts off his suits and gets to play a retired spy dragged out of retirement, etc. Nothing special, but a reasonably well put together film (despite Brosnan’s rather alarming action-gurn). What is of note, and what really got my back up, was the insistence, in such a throw-away film, to depict a rape against the main female character (played by Olga Kurylenko, another Bond alumnus who plays a very similar character in Quantum of Solace). I don’t actually mind the fact that her character is raped – it makes sense – but what got to me was the insistence on seeing it – in POV. Not much  mind, but enough. And it got me thinking. Why isn’t it enough for us to know she was raped? Why then later does this character have to suffer a flash back that leaves her useless and unable to avenge herself (you know – so the guys can do the killing)? Why does her whole character have to be defined this way?

Now The November Man is throw away, I doubt we’ll care about it in 5 minutes. But we will care about the preponderance of women being raped in film, and the consistent use of rape as the way to torture, threaten, and emotionally scare women. Once again women’s sexual “virtue” becomes a dominant aspect of their character. How they react, how they’re scarred, how they recover becomes part of the continuing moral grading of women based on sexual morality (and how men have to come in and deal with it). The woman is inevitably passed from one man (bad) to another (good) – although both are violent and murder others. But hey I guess that’s just how men express love, and hate, and maybe hunger. By shooting people.

Does any of this matter and what does it have to do with refrigerators?  Women in Refrigerators is a website set up in 1999 to catalogue the various atrocities that happen to female characters in comics, started after a Green Lantern found his dead girlfriend in the aforesaid white good. And it’s an extensive list in which women are transformed from people to motivating factors, and of course the worse their death/rape/mutilation the greater the cathartic violence the hero gets to enact. This at a time when Hollywood is becoming more and more male-centered (check out this Variety report).  Maybe we need a Hollywood Women in Refrigerators? I think, however, that it would be so extensive so as to break the internet.

As long as we keep seeing women in terms of sexual virtue, in which their whole lives are defined by a sexual trauma that can only be redeemed by a “good” man we’re going to keep having wider social issues concerning real relations between men and women. As men we need to start objecting when women are reduced to this. And we need to start recognizing how it also de-humanizes us – in which we are reduced to vengeance machines carrying massive anxiety about sex and sexuality. Frankly it’s not very grown up.

In 1974 Laura Mulvey published her ideas on the male gaze, suggesting that Classical Hollywood reduces women to passive objects simultaneously desired and hated by a ‘male’ camera. Although Mulvey’s ideas are not perfect, and are deeply rooted in Oedipal silliness, her idea got traction because she was on to something  important that overall women are being used for plot motivation, from which male characters act out the male audience’s anxieties. Indeed, these days, women barely feature in Hollywood films (only 30% of speaking characters). Lots has been said about the harm this does to women. And quite right. But we should also consider the harm it does to men, in limiting our ideas about women. They become problems, not people. And if that’s all we see it becomes real. Picking on one representation is neither here nor there and The November Man doesn’t matter. But women, and men, do.

The Usual Suspects is an excellent film, correctly celebrated for its non-linear structure and unreliable narrator. But it’s also a fascinating look at male anxiety in the way the characters are consistently calling into question each others’ sexuality and masculinity. As the Suspects themselves jockey to out-man each other Verbal Kint/Keyser Soze looks on showing the virtue of thought and ambiguity amid the cock-fights. It’s an anxiety that seems increasingly pervasive in male-culture, finding angry expression in communities such as Red Pill or in humorous social comment in #masculinitysofragile?. It’s with great prescience that Chris McQuarrie’s script for The Usual Suspects explores this.

Throughout the film the threat of loss of masculinity is ever present, with the possibility of passivity (especially in the sense of sexual penetration) seen as the greatest fear. Not so much death for McManus, Hockney, Fenster and Keaton but buggery as the ultimate humiliation. Their strength is seen in terms of this, their unwillingness to “bend over for anybody” in Kint’s terms. They tease and threaten each other with penetration (Fenster to Hockney “Hey lover boy, you wanna piece?”, McManus to Hockney “You wanna dance with a man for a change?”) When Keaton is arrested he’s told he’s not a business man, “From now on, you’re in the gettin’-fucked-by-us business.” Bending over, being fucked is the greatest threat. Is it any wonder these men grip their guns so tightly throughout the film? This constant reassurance of their masculinity, the acceptable cinematic phallus helps define, and protect them.

Except that it doesn’t. They are all undone by the most passive one of them all. One who talks rather than acts, who hurts and plans. Is it any coincidence that Verbal states that “I’ll probably shit blood tonight” having been punched by Keaton, revealing his own penetrability (unsurprisingly anal). Agent Kujan tries to dominate him mentally and physically, but its his own status as a “cripple” and a “gimp” (which means both disabled and a sexual submissive) that give him an advantage. It’s beyond these men, and their physical anxiety, to understand that they can be controlled by talk, not physicality, that passivity can be controlling.

Fundamentally this is the fear of the feminine (passive, talking, penetrated) that has taken root in our culture since the Victorian era – it’s created a binary opposition where attitudes and qualities accrue on either side and slippage isn’t possible. It’s beyond anyone in the film to see that Verbal Kint could move across boundaries, have qualities from either groups. It’s a division especially riven into US culture from the Western in which masculinity is held superior for its silence, action and ruggedness, with women connected to the home and hearth but also the emasculating forces of civilization.

Oddly it reminds of the classical split between Rome and Greece, and the USA is often compared to Rome. The Greeks had Odysseus praised for his wiles and planning, his cunning and speech. For the Romans he became Ulysses a treacherous man, whose deceit was an un-Roman quality. It may not be un-linked that the Greeks were more interested in sex between men. We don’t know whether Alexander the Great was a top, but it’s clear in the Illiad that Achilles was a bottom.

Classical diversions aside The Usual Suspects suggests the current growing anxiety in some men about their gender – that any quality that aligns them with women/homosexuality is to be driven away. Ironically, this leads to their downfall. Turns out their masculinity is fragile, rather like a Kobayashi mug.

It has been with a depressing familiarity that Hollywood has got itself in a mess this Oscar season about the lack of racial diversity in its nominees. Not only is this the second year without any non-white nominees for the key awards, it smacks of the same attitudes present since Hattie McDaniel accepted her Oscar in a Whites Only hotel for a film that painted slavery as not that bad and a nice backdrop to the problems of wealthy white people. Meanwhile the argument about equal pay for women goes on, spearheaded by Jennifer Lawrence, and the startling lack of  female directors is still to be noted (it’s worth listening to this excellent interview with Lexi Alexender on the topic) while male directors with a history of failures keep getting work.

All this came together in my mind while watching the execrable Pixels directed by journeyman Chris Columbus who has had some success (most notably with the first two, most boring, Harry Potters, Home Alone and Mrs Doubtfire) and some sizable flops (the $100 million Bicentennial Man being the most offensive). That Columbus gets a budget of $88 million for this dross when directors like Kathryn Bigelow and Mary Harron have barely made any films in the past 10 years shows how much the gender problem lingers throughout the Hollywood system. God knows how much Adam Sandler got for his lazy performance, but I’ve no doubt he probably made double the money that Michelle Monaghan received. Worse still this film puts a capable actress through the indignity of playing an horrific male-fantasy of rebound MILF; the sort of woman who goes for men who basically harass her when she’s in a fragile emotional state. Watch as Sandler, playing a TV repair guy, literally says “Wow” as she enters and then proceeds to explain that he’s shocked that any man would leave her because she’s so hot! Instead of, like a real person, phoning his boss and getting him sacked, she tolerates this eventually deciding that the schlub has potential. The rest of the film is lazy as hell, and continues to demean women throughout, seeing them exclusively as the reward for male effort – including one character having a threesome arranged for him by the President because he helped save the world. In a kids movie. It’s also an incredibly white film, with non-white characters limited to support (in fact the only two significant non-whites, both male, need to be rescued by our white heroes in the film’s tepid denouement). The only engaging character in the film is Q*bert, an animated sidekick – and even he is transformed into a sexy-hot-female-warrior so one hero can live his weird cyber-sex fantasies. Did I mention it’s, y’know, for kids?

Generally considered as a flop Pixels managed to drag in $244 million globally, meaning it probably covered it’s costs. But it stands as an excellent expression of all that’s wrong with Hollywood – a story conceived around a cool idea, but one that no-one thought through; misogyny from the get go (the cast has two characters called Cyber Chick #1, and Cyber Chick #2); lack of diversity; and a horrible view of its audience.

Yes the Oscars are an affront. Yes the pay-gap is wrong. But the problem will not be solved by a few awards, or a few pay rises. Until it hits the execs who put this tripe together, who treat their audience as a bunch of idiots with the emotional intelligence of zero, nothing changes. Please stop spending your money on this stuff – seek out the work of female directors, make an effort to watch films made by, and for, diverse people. Otherwise there’s another 100 years of this.

Having scandalized a nation with the excellent Dressed to Kill (1980) De Palma planned to go one better with his next Body Double, this time re-mixing Vertigo and Rear Window and then adding some madness that’s all his own. It’s more polished than its predecessor, but lacks the visceral shocks, although much is made up by the gleeful deconstruction of male spectatorship in a film in which a crime is solved because the protagonist (Craig Wasson as a loser B-Movie actor) surfs porn channels at night. The twist is so ludicrous it trumps all other elements in this thriller that once again throws the audience a dirty look and suggest that watching films might just be a bit perverted.

Wasson is Jake Scully an actor fired from a terrible vampire film because he suffers from claustrophobia. He goes home and finds his wife in bed with another man (worse than that, he makes her “Glow”). A new friend (Gregg Henry) offers him a place to stay, in what must be the most 1980s location ever, the Ultramodern Chemosphere complete with rotating bed and a telescope that spies on the hot woman dancing opposite. Mix in a mysterious Native American TV engineer and a murder plot soon hatches in which, in the least subtly phallic way imaginable, a woman is killed by a very large drill. Haunted by this woman Jake cracks up, watches porn and spies Melanie Griffith (as porn-star Holly Body) who has some familiar dance moves. Jake, being a bit mad, decides the best way to follow up his observation is to star in a porn-film opposite Holly, a scene which includes Frankie Goes to Hollywood singing their subtle anthem Relax (and I mean the actual band turns up, not just the song).

On paper nothing should work about this film. The protagonist is unlikable, the plot hinges on ludicrous behavior and coincidences and the finale involves a dog misidentifying his owner, but the whole is done with such (heavily 1980s) style and verve that it works, dashing though its running time at breakneck speed. It also makes some neat observations about the male audience, and the differences between being a Peeping Tom and watching porn. Just as in Dressed to Kill women are not represented well, there are only two really, but the men are far worse: a bunch of selfish, obsessive voyeurs. And De Palma’s willingness to throw in every thriller trick makes it hypnotic watching.

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