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Related: curiosity - eavesdropping - eye - gaze - perversion - paraphilia - privacy - reality television - scopophilia - sensationalism - stalking

Contrast: exhibitionism

"It is usual for most normal people to linger to some extent over the intermediate aim of looking that has a sexual tinge to it; indeed, this offers them a possibility of directing some proportion of their libido on to higher artistic aims. On the other hand, this pleasure in looking becomes a perversion (a) if it is restricted exclusively to the genitals, or (b) if it is connected with the overriding of disgust (as in the case of voyeurs or people who look at excretory functions), or (c) if, instead of being preparatory to the normal sexual aim, it supplants it." --Sigmund Freud, 1905

In literature: literature of the 19th century - epistolary novel - Pamela (1740)

In cinema: Alfred Hitchcock - Brian De Palma - Rear Window (1954) - The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959) - Peeping Tom (1960) - X - The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963) - The Conversation (1974) - Sisters (1973) - Dressed to Kill (1980)

Voyeurism is not just one of the primary tools of cinema, but of written fiction too. [Dec 2005]

Lady Godiva (c. 1898) John Collier

Peeping Tom (1960) - Michael Powell [Amazon.com]

Rear Window (1954) - Alfred Hitchcock [Amazon.com]


Voyeurism is a practice in which an individual derives sexual pleasure from observing other people. Such people may be engaged in sexual acts, or be nude or in underwear, or dressed in whatever other way the "voyeur" finds appealing. Voyeuristic practices may take a number of forms but its characteristic feature is that the voyeur does not directly interact with the object of their voyeurism (often unaware that they are being observed), instead observing the act from a distance, peeping through an opening, and/or using techniques like binoculars, a mirror, camera (including camera phone and video camera), etc., and this stimulus becomes part of a masturbation fantasy during or after the observation.

When done openly it may or may not be appreciated, depending on the other person(s) being exhibitionistic.

Non-consensual voyeurism is an invasion of privacy.

Voyeurism is considered a deviant sexual act and even a sex crime in most cultures, is most frequently practiced by males, and is tolerated to some degree in certain societies depending upon the circumstances (e.g., adolescent "Peeping Toms"). Sites such as Privatevoyeur.com depict voyeurism as it is used and condoned in some societies.

In the United Kingdom, non-consensual voyeurism became a criminal offence on May 01, 2004, under the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

In several gyms in the United States, camera phones are confiscated at the entrances, in efforts to ensure privacy and combat voyeurism, which in some states, is considered a sex crime. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voyeurism [Oct 2004]

Voyeurism in cinema

Voyeurism is just one of the primary tools of cinema. Hitchcock and directors before him in the silent era, when you shot a close-up from somebody's point of view, you were tying the audience very directly into the experience. It's the only art form in which you are showing the same piece of information to your character and the viewer in the audience simultaneously. That's what's unique about it and that's why people are drawn into film -- because they're experiencing the same visual information as the character. --Ian Rothkerch via Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ent/movies/int/2002/11/06/depalma/index2.html [Apr 2005]

Monsieur Hire (1989) - Patrice Leconte

Monsieur Hire (1989) - Patrice Leconte [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Lonely and shy bachelor Monsieur Hire (Michel Blanc), suspected in the murder of a girl, secretly watches his young, attractive neighbor Alice (Sandrine Bonnaire) through the window. Once, when lightning flashes during a thunderstorm, she notices his face in the window and comes to him to find out what he is after. Adapting Georges Simenon's novel, Patrice Leconte emphasized the psychological drama rather than the detective story and created a film about loneliness and voyeurism; his cold precision is reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock or Fritz Lang. The low-key acting and moody soundtrack add a lot, but it's the director who deserves the most accolades, as he manages, with only glances and gestures, to achieve a degree of eroticism that other films fail to reach even through explicit sex scenes. ~ Yuri German, All Movie Guide

Score by Michael Nyman. Introduced me to the music of Johannes Brahms. --jahsonic [Jul 2004]

Sliver (1993) - Phillip Noyce

  • Sliver (1993) - Phillip Noyce [Amazon.com]
    After her success with Basic Instinct, Sharon Stone opted for familiar territory with this campfest that purports to be a sexualized thriller about voyeurism but in reality is more of an excuse to get Stone and costar William Baldwin out of their clothes. Rear Window it ain't. Stone plays it drab and quiet as a successful career woman on the rebound from a bad marriage who moves into a mysterious Manhattan high-rise. Once there, she discovers that she has a few admirers: a hunky and enigmatic neighbor (Baldwin), a popular writer of crime novels (Tom Berenger), and someone who seems to enjoy watching her every move on the building-wide surveillance system. And is one of them the serial killer who's stalking the comely female tenants? Scripted by the erstwhile Joe Eszterhas (Basic Instinct and Jagged Edge), Sliver follows the standard Eszterhas plot line of a protagonist suspecting that his or her lover may or may not be a vicious killer, the tension mounting as clue upon clue is discovered. Unlike both Instinct or Edge, though, Sliver delivers little suspense, thanks in part to a reshot ending that changed the original identity of the killer in the Ira Levin novel and confounded students of rational thought. However, if you're looking for an unintentionally funny thriller with loads of extraneous nudity, Sliver is an enjoyably huge hunk of cheese. --Mark Englehart for Amazon.com

    Sliver (1991) is a novel by U.S. author Ira Levin about the mysterious goings-on in a privately-owned New York highrise apartment building, especially after a new tenant -- an attractive young woman working in publishing -- has moved in. Phillip Noyce directed a film based on the book in 1993.

    When she makes the acquaintance of a handsome and friendly young man who lives in the same "sliver" building she does not know at first that he is the owner. While keeping a low profile himself, he turns out to know an awful lot about the other inhabitants including many of their secrets. It then turns out that he is a modern-day Peeping Tom who, unknown to everyone, has had surveillance cameras and microphones installed in every single apartment of the house, with his own place in the building serving as his headquarters. The novel is also a murder mystery, and the beautiful heroine soon becomes a damsel in distress herself. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sliver [Dec 2005]

    Deathwatch / La Mort en direct (1980) - Bertrand Tavernier

  • Deathwatch / La Mort en direct (1980) - Bertrand Tavernier

    See entry for Bertrand Tavernier

    The Voyeur (1985) - Alberto Moravia

    see also: erotic fiction - Alberto Moravia - Tinto Brass

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