Made possible by a feature film financing initiative in Saskatchewan, the willing voyeur
instantly became un film maudit
. The cursed nature of the film is the result of the complexity of its achievement: it is a fictional feature made by an artist known for innovative documentaries. The film is an investigative drama with the visual authority of a Costa-Gavras thriller, but it has no settled sense of an investigating presence, and there are no resolutions at the end. It revolves around images of violence –
violence photographed voyeuristically.
the willing voyeur is a film of fragments. The images are presented but imperfectly explained. The murder of a woman is frequently referred to, and we encounter the killer, although the killer remains unknown to the other characters in the film. Body bags litter the floor of a cavernous railway station, a scene in which the window-bars and elongated shadows, and the accompanying choral music, disturbingly seem to sanctify the violence. The simultaneous sound of trains suggests the need to get away. The principal investigator does indeed depart to Washington, a city "pre-lit" (as Kerr explained) with clouds of smoke and jets and helicopters flying overhead, suggesting a city under siege.
Voices and sounds are established and then deployed fugally, making magnificent use of the possibilities of stereo. The sound design is exemplary, creating alternate acoustic spaces for the images and recalling different moments in time within this resolutely nonlinear film. Two women appear in a Washington hotel, Sophie waiting for Claire, each mistrustful of the other. Next, they are on a train, then in another hotel, where they embrace in a moment of surprising tenderness for this film. When we see the investigator returning on the train from Washington, he is reciting names. Are these names from the Vietnam memorial in Washington (we see a shot of The Wall being hosed down one morning)? Or do they match the bodies zipped up in all those body bags?
For Richard Kerr, the willing voyeur represents an extraordinary accomplishment — a recapitulation of earlier investigations into both the nature of narrative and the pornography of violence within the North American psyche. Many characters, some seen only in flashes, are voyeuristically observed by others, including one person who is forced to commit suicide by a woman (Is it Claire?) taking pictures of his self-destructive act.
Finally, however, the title of the film refers to its spectators — indeed, to all citizens of the contemporary world. In the willing voyeur, not only are we voyeurs of the violence in the film but also, by extrapolation, to that of Vietnam, Rwanda, Sarajevo, the Middle East. In our political passivity, our collective incapacity, we have all become voyeurs to the irrational violence of the world.