White of the Eye. Film Review

Director: Donald Cammell
Screenplay: Donald Cammell, China Kong (from the novel by Margaret Tracy)
Starring: David Keith, Cathy Moriarty, Alan Rosenberg
Running Time: 111 Mins
Certificate: 18
Format: Blu-ray/DVD Dual Format, Limited Edition Steelbook
Reviewed by Guy Adams

Creativity and commercialism don’t always mix. We know this. The history of cinema is littered with stories of screenwriters’ work eviscerated, director’s control compromised, actors recast. Donald Cammell suffered more than most, certainly in the context of how much studio interference upset him. He committed suicide in 1995 after seeing a drastically re-edited version of his movie WILD SIDE.

PERFORMANCE, his first, co-directed with Nicholas Roeg, was savaged by its own studio and remained unreleased for two years. The film is now thought of as a classic, and Roeg went on to great success. Cammell struggled. He made only three more films over the next twenty five years.

WHITE OF THE EYE shows us what we missed, a talent that should have been nurtured not ground down.

Ostensibly it’s a serial killer movie, but shot with such flair and innovation that the description seems absurdly reductive. Set in Globe, Arizona, we focus on Paul (Keith) and Joan White (Moriarty). In the present day, they’re relationship is troubled by police interest in Paul after he becomes the suspect in a series of murders. Through flashbacks we see how the couple first met, Joan travelling across the country with her previous partner, Mike (Rosenberg) when she meets, and ultimately falls for, Paul.

A number of synopses and reviews give away the identity of the killer, which is a shame as Cammell skilfully pays with our suspicions for two-thirds of the movie’s length. Not that WHITE OF THE EYE’s strength lies in the mechanics of its plot, it’s a beautiful, eerie, Giallo-like thriller, as much a feast for the eyes as the brain. Critic, David Thomson calls it “one of the greatest secret works in cinema” and he may well be right.

It’s certainly one of the Arrow label’s most significant releases. Restored from the original camera negative, the movie comes with a heroic weight of special features: an audio commentary from Cammell biographer, Sam Umland; a feature-length documentary looking at Cammell’s career featuring contributions from a wide variety of his friends and colleagues, including Nicholas Roeg, Mick Jagger and James Fox; deleted scenes and even his short film THE ARGUMENT, shot by the cinematographic wonder that is Vilmos Zsigmond. As usual there is also an extensive booklet with writing from Brad Stevens, Sam Umland and an unpublished extract from producer, Elliott Kastner’s memoirs.

An astonishing disc of an astonishing movie.