Sunday, 1 February 2015


Donald Cammell only made four movies, but his life off screen was far more eventful than the time he spent behind the camera. Cammell was born in Scotland, and wrote and co-directed his first feature, Performance, with Nicholas Roeg in 1968. Roeg got most of the credit for that film and achieved greater success as a result, but despite numerous attempts, Cammell didn't make another feature until Demon Seed in 1977.

Shortly after his fourth film, 1995's Wild Side, Cammell committed suicide in Hollywood, the only place he had ever wanted to make movies. Furthermore, his wife claimed the wound was not immediately fatal and that he had asked for a mirror so that he could watch himself die. A claim that's been refuted by several sources since.

You can see why the connection was made though, because he was certainly attracted to death, and his third film, White of the Eye, is a clear indication of that. A serial killer is on the loose in and around Arizona, and housewife Joan White (Cathy Moriarty) is blissfully unaware, at least at first, that her opera-loving hi-fi engineer husband, Paul (David Keith), might know more than he's letting on.

Described by the distinguished critic David Thomson as "one of the great secret works in cinema", White of the Eye is an intriguing proposition for much of its leisurely running time. The fascinating visual style, which could be accused of aping the work of Dario Argento, is accompanied by a memorable score co-written by Pink Floyd's Nick Mason.

David Keith has rarely been better, though you're more likely to recognise him from appearances in U-571, An Officer and a Gentleman and Firestarter. Cathy Moriarty is on fine form too. Far removed from your typical damsel in distress, Moriarty brings depth, vulnerability, edge and beauty to the table. White of the Eye might sound like a routine 80s thriller, but with Cammell behind the camera it rarely comes across that way.

Cammell always did beat to the sound of a different drum, and White of the Eye is further proof of his peculiarity. At least until the producers stepped in. He's in no rush either, which works in the films favour for much of its running time. Cammell has created an off-kilter world that captivates from the outset, a mesmerising oddity that reels you in and takes hold. However, as the final act looms ever larger, Eye of the Tiger loses its way, forced to conform with a tacked on denouement that doesn't sit well with the rest of the picture.

It's an underwhelming ending for sure, but despite concerns about style over substance, there's lots to enjoy along the way. Not least the infamous hunting scene, which comes at a time when the movie is starting to lose focus. It's a bruising encounter, with homoerotic undertones, and I only wish there had been more of this throughout. The death sequences are creative though, and the voyeuristic nature of these killings is incredibly effective. Keith is the glue that binds, believable as both the doting husband and the psychotic killer, but he's clearly having more fun - as is the audience - when he's asked to step it up a gear.

With a gorgeous new restoration of the negative and a bevy of supplements including a documentary on Cammell by Oscar winning filmmaker Kevin Macdonald and Chris Rodley, an audio commentary by Cammell's biographer Sam Umland, Cammell's short film The Argument, a comprehensive booklet and more, Arrow Films has once again delivered the goods in terms of quality. Fans of the film, its director and stars really couldn't ask for more.

Strip back the weirdness and you're left with a straightforward serial killer movie, albeit, one that does its best to avoid serial killer stereotypes. The killings are artful, the tone is bizarre and the characters are downright bewildering. Unfortunately, Cammell is far more interested in what the characters become than how they get there, and the leaps of faith can be quite jarring at times.

White of the Eye will definitely find an audience, and lovers of cinematic oddities could do far worse. It's probably best if you switch off after the films true ending though, some twenty minutes before the final credits roll. 

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