Plot: After he wrote the landmark book Thy Neighbor’s Wife, acclaimed writer Gay Talese was contacted by numerous people about his sexual expose, including a man who claimed he had a story that Talese had to know about. That man was Gerald Foos, who weaved a tale of voyeurism that Talese couldn’t believe, with Foos buying a motel then customizing it so that he could observe his guests. Foos would look down on his clients and observe them for hours on end, often as they just did mundane things or slept, but sometimes he would witness more interesting elements. He saw this as a kind of social experiment of sorts, or at least that is how he presented it to Talese. The two would remain in contact for decades, with Foos unwilling to take the full truth forward, until in old age, when he was worried his research would vanish when he passed. This movie takes us inside the release of Talese’s book on the man and his motel, as well as the controversies it stirred up.

Entertainment Value: This is indeed the tale of a man who spied on people for decades without their knowledge, but if you’re looking for sex or titillation, Voyeur isn’t going to scratch that itch. Instead, the movie takes an interest in who Foos and Talese are as people, what makes them tick and how they each navigate this unusual material. Foos is obviously a creep in a lot of ways, but he is fascinated by not just the sexual acts he was able to peep in on, but all of the human behaviors he observed, which he documented down to the tiniest of details. In a similar vein, Talese is shown as a dedicated writer who is invested in his stories, but more invested in himself and at times, forgoes the basics of journalism in his work. When a problem arises, he worries more about his reputation than ensuring the book is accurate, for example. Or that he insists Foos and his wife dress up when he comes around, as clearly talking with people in normal clothes is beneath Talese. The various personality quirks of both men, for better or worse, are on full showcase here.

But despite the focus on journalistic process and personalities over the sleazier elements involved in the motel narrative, Voyeur is never dull or slow in the least. And given that there is a book by Talese that details the entire story from start to finish, to rehash it just for some cheap thrills here would have been an unwise choice. This gives us a solid, interesting companion piece to the book and to me, that is more valuable. I appreciated the moments Talese opened up the inside world of journalism, especially showing his own personal archive of research and his documents on his stories, which showed his attention to detail, although that seemed to be lacking at times as he prepared this book for publication. The piece is mostly interviews with Foos and Talese, with additional scenes with Foos’ wife and a New Yorker official, as well as some heavy handed, but effective shots of Foos looming over a miniature version of his motel, reminding us of the power he felt as a voyeur. I found this to be a well made documentary, one that was always interesting and easily recommended, but just keep in mind the book is the story of what was seen, Voyeur is the story of how the book and the New Yorker articles came into existence, and the men behind them.

Use this Amazon link to purchase The Voyeur’s Motel, the book that tells the entire story and is the center of the movie!