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A USA Film Festival member wrote a letter accusing us of acting like spurned lovers because we took offense at the USAFF's recent snub of this very newspaper. Well, we'd like to clarify: We're really more like spurned, masochistic lovers. Slap us, and we'll give you more publicity--providing you put a hurtin' on us with terrific movies like director Michael Powell's Peeping Tom, presented as part of the fest's monthly Independent Showcase series.

With the possible exception of Tony Beckley in When a Stranger Calls, no psychotic killer in cinema has ever been so charmingly befuddled, so sweetly unsure of himself, as Carl Boehm's Mark Lewis, the cheesecake photographer who slays his female subjects for a project that kind of stretches the term "labor of love." Lewis, a lowly film-studio focus-puller, is obsessed with the look of terror on women's faces right before he kills them. It's a twisted preoccupation that stretches all the way back to his relationship with his father (the film's director Michael Powell, in an equally chilling cameo), another aspiring filmmaker. Let's just say the psycho never falls far from the psychopath.

Some insisted that Powell had shown flashes of cruelty and misogyny throughout his career, and Peeping Tom was merely a culmination. This movie basically ruined his career, which was strange, considering it was released the same year as Hitchcock's now-immortal Psycho (1960), another climax for a director accused of the same sins. Much as we adore Psycho, we have to say Powell and Boehm creeped us out much more with this deadpan study of image fetishization that is also, some have suggested, a subtle satire on auteurist vision and the film director's relationship with the actor. Hitchcock ambushed Anthony Perkins with technique; Powell seems to plant himself inside Boehm's head and peer at these horrible crimes through the actor's timid, helpless, addicted eyes.

Martin Scorsese has dusted off Peeping Tom for a national re-release, and the USA Film Festival has scored its only wide-screen Dallas presentation. If next year's USA Film Festival is even half as interesting as this one selection (and our trembling hearts will barely let us believe it, so often have they been broken before), then we'll do anything to score next April. And we mean anything.

--Jimmy Fowler

The USA Film Festival screens Peeping Tom May 17, 7:30 p.m., at the AMC Glen Lakes Theatre, 9450 N. Central Expressway. Tickets are $7, $6 for USAFF members. Call (214) 821-

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Jimmy Fowler

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