Creepy peep-show motel
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The concept of a voyeur being methodical enough to purchase a motel for the purpose of getting off on his guests' sex lives is the sort of tawdry revelation that fuels tabloids, pulp novels, porn, and "Psycho." How could such a story fail to galvanize the reading and viewing public? Well, it turns out there's more to sex than quantitative analysis, more to literature than a litany of physical actions, more even to movies than a series of exposed body parts. That something more is the "je ne sais quoi" utterly lacking in the latest iteration of said motel owner's sad-sack perv saga. "Voyeur" streams on Netflix starting Friday.
The several versions of this narrative kick off in 1969 with the accounts Gerald Foos made of his illicit nightly sightings. The man was a visionary, a kindred spirit to hunters who wait and watch in a duck-blind for unsuspecting prey to fly in for a well-earned rest. Foos took his time transforming some of the 21 rooms in his newly purchased motel into human-blinds, with louvered peepholes gazing down through ceilings from a carpeted crawl space under its peaked roof. Clever little maniac. His first wife is said to have helped him, but no one interviewed her, and she left no notes, whereas he penned "The Voyeur's Journal."
Next comes Foos' January 1980 letter to Gay Talese, a New York nonfiction author turned sex chronicler for "Thy Neighbor's Wife" (1980), offering a peek at his original research. Oh yeah. Foos wasn't a Peeping Tom in his own estimation, but a researcher like Kinsey, with his own attic laboratory overlooking the rats in the traps below. Talese, intrigued, visited Foos, joined him in his lab, and observed some of his rats. Raising no objections moral, legal, or professional, he began compiling his own research on the rat Foos. He couldn't publish back then because Foos feared prosecution and persecution by the good people of Denver.
Talese's decades-in-the-waiting book "The Voyeur's Motel" (2016) accords Foos a prestige only the most grandiose sociopath could have imagined possible. Excerpted first in The New Yorker, slaved over by its legendary fact-checkers, it was published by the equally venerable Grove Press. With a midsection of glossy color photos, this odd little book is 40% Foos' carnal scribblings, 60% Talese's workaday contextualization, moderation, and occasional disclaimer. Talese, no dummy, knew Foos wasn't all there, but not until those fact-checkers tipped The Washington Post was the DIY sexologist downgraded to unreliable narrator.
Myles Kane and Josh Koury got themselves attached to Talese as he was writing the book, and started filming the trim octogenarian. Shots of him in his Manhattan brownstone, in his basement office with its well-tended archives, a living literary legend at work, are of great interest. Too bad the filmmakers didn't have a nose for this story, no obsessions to grind, no questions to ask, remaining inert behind their camera. Same thing when they filmed Foos, pushing 80, a huge guy with creepy dyed black hair and goatee, oversized tinted glasses. The perv in the flesh, bloated and hobbling, and they couldn't trick a single insight out of him.
This isn't the first documentary made by people without the journalist gene, but their lack of initiative is appalling. There are only four other snatches of interview, with the second wife and Talese's editors. Is this self-censorship or laziness? Why didn't Kane and Koury chase down the fact-checkers, Paul Farhi of The Washington Post, better still a chambermaid, or the guests whose unguarded private moments were some moron's private peepshow? A doctor, a lawyer, some fellow voyeurs? There are so many angles to this story, yet half the 95-minute runtime of "Voyeur" is filler. The book at least has Foos' grubby literary musings, thus:
"Then after about five minutes, he eased his penis out of her and rolled over on his side of the bed. Later he got a towel from the bathroom and they cleaned their sexual organs. The Voyeur's nostrils twitched, smelling the arousing odor of completed sex. But then the male subject fumbled with his clothes until he found a pack of cigarettes. He lit two, passing one on to her. She sucked the smoke into her lungs, then sighed heavily as if to say, 'Sex is over for now, and now we're back to reality and have to deal with the futility of living.'"
Scene from Myles Kane and Josh Koury's "Voyeur." Photo: Courtesy the filmmakers