Director: Donal Cammell
Cast: David Keith, Cathy Moriarty, and Alan Rosenberg
Length: 110 min
Label: Arrow Films
Release Date: March 31, 2014
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Audio: English: LPCM 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH
- Donald Cammell: The Ultimate Performance: Feature Length Documentary
- Audio commentary by Cammell biographer Sam Umland
- The Argument: a 1972 short film by Cammell with commentary by Umland
- Rare Deltered Scenes
- Booklet including essays and archival art
- Original theatrical trailer
- Alternative Credits Sequence
White of the Eye (1987) is an interesting film for so many reasons: it is a disconcerting and often misleading thriller, a multi-layered film with a narrative that reaches deep beneath the surface, and a film that is impossible to appreciate in a single viewing. It carries a certain je nais quoi, which is difficult to vocalise. Despite the fragmented, and often difficult to engage in plot line and structure, it does make for a very intelligent, unconventional, and stylish watch. But it, and I cannot stress this point enough, requires a lot of patience. On this basis, it will not appeal to everyone; if you are looking for an easy thrill, you will not find it in White of the Eye.
Donald Cammell sets the scene, not in his native upper class London (as seen in his cult hit Performance) with swanky regency architecture, but in the dusty back roads of Arizona: an affluent desert community, with beautiful homes surrounded by a desolate landscape. There is an almost post-apocalyptic feel to the landscape, which suggests that no matter how many beautiful things the people bring here, they are still surrounded by ugly dust and tumbleweed. But then, despite all their cash, the people are as ugly as their environment: noveau Riche, with their gaudy ‘80s soap-star fashion and fast cars. The landscape, key in establishing the mood and the tone of the film, takes on a life of its own, becoming a key player in telling the story.
The film opens with a chilling and symbolic Giallo-styled murder in which a mysterious black-gloved killer stalks and violently kills a rich woman, returning to her luxury home to prepare the family dinner. From here the plot takes a completely different direction and we find ourselves focused on the Whites: Paul, Joan and their daughter Danielle. Thus makes up the first two thirds of the film. Women are being murdered, but dedicated husband, and all-around-good-guy Paul White becomes the main focus of the investigation, due to having a certain rare tread on his tires. White of the Eye becomes, in essence, a drama of sorts; Paul and Joan going about their daily lives; Paul, resisting the attentions of the bored rich housewives he visits on his travels. (The sort of women who sip wine from their sun drenched verandas that overlook the pool, and wear the thickest of furs but no knickers. But Paul is a good man and Joan a devoted wife.) This is where some viewers will find a problem, because after the horrific opener (a woman getting her head caved into a microwave) the film seems to lose its momentum. It almost threatens to just float around in its own self-indulgence. This could have very well been the case had it not been for the nihilistic edge that the film’s message carries.
Prior to the ultimate payoff, we learn about Paul and Joan through a series of flashbacks. The flashback scenes are surreal; the film’s editing masking the distinction between past and present. To further confuse matters, we discover Mike, Joan’s former lover who she left for Paul, is still lurking around behind the scenes. Weaved into this is dialogue-heavy script are plenty of long tracking shots of luxury homesteads with walkways and massive cactuses adorning them, desert roads which go on forever and ever, and an unrelenting Arizona sun beating down on it all. The narrative holds just enough of an air of mystery to get to keep the viewer’s attention until the end reveal. All I will say on this matter, without spoilers, is that if you think the desert sun looks hot, wait until the last 40 minutes of White of the Eye turns up the heat on the action.
Key to the success of White of the Eye is the performances by Cathy Moriarty (Joan White) and David Keith (Paul White). Even when it seems there is not a lot going on the chemistry between the two actors ensures that the plot remains engaging. Less can be said for young Danielle Smith (Danielle White), who comes off slightly wooden. Additionally, Alan Rosenburg, as former boyfriend Mike Desantos, takes a bit too much influence from Al Pacino for this reviewers liking. However, Art Evans puts in a solid turn as Columbo-esque cop Charles Mendoza, and the rest of the supporting cast all play their parts well.
Special mention has to go to Larry McConkey’s cinematography, which is spectacular. His prowess is at its finest in the location shots of the sprawling desert. He adopts a number of approaches; especially in his use of wide tracking shots and extreme close ups of eyes, giving White of the Eye an artistic edge.
Arrow Video, using a 2K resolution scan, restored White of the Eye from the original 35mm print with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. This edition comes with both a standard-definition DVD and high-definition Blu-ray (1080p). The restoration is interesting because the original print was put through a bleach by-pass in order to give the film a sun-scorched effect, which upholds the atmosphere of the film. Arrow paid respect to this in their process, refusing to add unnecessary detail or sharpening filters. The texture of the print is faithful to the original, but because of the bleaching it is not particularly detailed. The color is naturalistic, the skin tones look normal, and there is no oversaturation. There are also no obvious relics of DNR processes, so the print maintains texture and depth, as it should, with no noticeable haloing or shadowing. The print is clean, free from dirt and scratches.
Remaining faithful to the releases features an uncompressed Stereo PCM audio track. There is a nice depth to the sound, providing the perfect vehicle to showcase the soundtrack by Nick Mason (Pink Floyd) and Rick Fenn. The soundtrack, playing a huge role in establishing the feel of the film, is flawlessly preserved in stereo track re-master (you really get a feel for what Cammell was trying to project with all the key parts in place). Optional SDH English subtitles available.
Arrow has once again rolled out a sensational bunch of extras. Top of the list is Donald Cammell: The Ultimate Performance, a feature length documentary about director, who committed suicide in 1996. The documentary features interviews with those who worked with him or knew him, including: Mick Jagger, Barbara Steele, Kenneth Anger, James Fox and his wife China. In addition, there is also archival interview material with Cammell himself. Donald Cammell The Ultimate Performance, originally screened on the BBC in 1999, provides a vast insight into the world of this lesser known director and examines his major works, his influences, his life, and the events leading up to his death.
Adding to the extras Cammell biographer Sam Umland provides a commentary for both the feature film and also the 1972 Cammell short film The Argument, included with this release. In addition to the commentary track, documentary, and short film, there are rare and deleted scenes. Interestingly some of the flashback scenes appear to be from the original negative, which show the contrast before the bleach bypass process was performed. Rounding out the package are the original theatrical trailer and an alternate credits sequence.
The packaging offers the choice between the original artwork and newly commissioned by Nathanael Marsh with a reversible. Inside are a collector’s booklet, with writing by Brad Stevens and Sam Umland, and an extract from the unpublished memoirs of producer Elliott Kastner; illustrated with original archive stills.
The Bottom Line.
White of the Eye is certainly not one of the most accessible films and it is one that requires some patience to digest. However it is a memorable effort nonetheless, thought provoking and deep. Outstanding performances from Moriarty and Keith, a rich soundscape from Rick Fenn and Nick Mason, and amazing cinematography from Larry McConkey, White of the Eye makes for an enriching experience if you are willing to invest the time. The huge set of bonus features in this new Arrow release make a comprehensive bundle for those wanting to know more about the strange and elusive world of the ill-fated director Donald Cammell. A must-own for any Cammel and/or White of the Eye fan.