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White of the Eye (US Blu-ray review)

Specs

Specs

Details

Director: Donal Cammell
Cast: David Keith, Cathy Moriarty, and Alan Rosenberg
Year: 1987
Length: 110 min
Rating: R
Region: A/1
Disks: 2
Label: Scream Factory
Release Date: November 17, 2014

Video

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Resolution: 1080p
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Type: Color

Audio

Audio: English: LPCM 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH

Extras
  • Audio commentary by Cammell biographer Sam Umland
  • Deleted Scenes w/ Commentary by Umland
  • Into the White: Interview with Cinematographer Larry McConkey
  • Eye of the Detective: NEW interview with actor Art Evans
  • Into the Vortex: NEW interview with actor Alan Rosenberg
  • Alternative Credits Sequence
  • Bleach Bypass Sequences

The Film

**Review mostly originated for the Arrow release, sections have been update to account for the differences between versions. All screen grabs have been provided via Scream Factory’s new edition.**

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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 ne sais quoi, which is difficult to vocalize. 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.

Donald Cammell's White of the Eye (1987) [click to enlarge]

Donald Cammell’s White of the Eye (1987) [click to enlarge]

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.

Donald Cammell's White of the Eye (1987) [click to enlarge]

Donald Cammell’s White of the Eye (1987) [click to enlarge]

Video

Scream Factory have utilized the transfer originally comissioned via Arrow Video. Using a 2K resolution scan, Arrow restored White of the Eye from the original 35mm print with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1.  Like Arrow’s release 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. This transfer pays 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. The major difference between the Scream and Arrow discs, is that there appears to be minor compression artifacts present in Scream’s disc, but they are not terribly distracting.

Donald Cammell's White of the Eye (1987) [click to enlarge]

Donald Cammell’s White of the Eye (1987) [click to enlarge]

Audio

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.

Donald Cammell's White of the Eye (1987) [click to enlarge]

Donald Cammell’s White of the Eye (1987) [click to enlarge]

Extras

Adding to the extras Cammell biographer Sam Umland provides a commentary for both the feature film and also for the deleted scenes. There are three fantastic interviews included on this disc that come highly recommended. Through each of these three pieces, we learn a lot about the production of the film and gain an insight into Cammell’s headspace, in terms of his wants and desires both visually as well as what he expected from his actors. There is a special feature that includes the sequences that had the Bleach by-pass effect added to them presented without the effect included here. While interesting, it doesn’t a great deal of value to the disc. Rounding out the package are the alternate credits sequence, which was also featured via the Arrow release.

Donald Cammell's White of the Eye (1987) [click to enlarge]

Donald Cammell’s White of the Eye (1987) [click to enlarge]

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 release make a comprehensive bundle for those wanting to know more about the strange and elusive world of the ill-fated director Donald Cammell. As for choosing between Arrow and Scream Factory’s releases, they stand toe to toe, with Arrow offering the better package overall in terms of features, packaging, and transfer. For those without region free capabilities, this release will not do you wrong, however, it’s not so much an improvement over what was already available.

The Film **Review mostly originated…

Review Overview

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About Kat Ellinger

Kat Ellinger is the Editor-in-Chief at Diabolique Magazine, and the co-host of their Daughters of Darkness and Hell's Belles podcasts. She has also written for BFI, Senses of Cinema, Fangoria and Scream Magazine, and provided various home video supplements, commentary, liner notes, on camera interviews and audio essays, for a number of companies including Arrow Films, Kino Lorber, Indicator, Second Run and Cult Films. Kat is the author of Daughters of Darkness (Devil's Advocates, Auteur), and All the Colours of Sergio Martino (Arrow Films).

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