Shortly after viewing Donald Cammell’s, White of the Eye, I was asked by a friend to give a brief synopsis and my early thoughts – what followed was a mixture of long pauses and baffling utterances, before insisting they view it themselves and experience how bizarrely mesmerising this film is. I will strive to provide a little more of an insight in to the madness of White of the Eye, but will invariably reach the same conclusion.
Cammell’s name often draws reference to his collaboration with Nicolas Roeg on their much lauded feature film, Performance, but here Cammell goes it alone to produce a wonderfully surreal thriller, set against the austere back drop of Tuscon Arizona. Cammell’s skill as a filmmaker and an artist is evident, and, whilst it may be considered a little too much style over substance, with some notably outlandish cinematography he succeeds in creating an other-worldly realm for his psychotic killer to exist.
The plot centres around Paul White (David Keith), a charming family man and audio-tech specialist. As an investigation commences in to the murders of multiple women in the area, suspicions arise, and a link to the crime scene makes Paul the prime suspect. The murder investigation however takes a back seat, with the focus resting on the cryptic character of Paul White and the historical ‘love triangle’ with his wife Joan (Cathy Moriarty) and Mike Desantos (Alan Rosenberg), as we switch between past and present, learning more about their origin. Divulging anymore would surely spoil it, but rest assured what ensues is truly bizarre.
The madness carries through to Cammell’s shooting style, which is both unsettling and mesmeric from shot to shot. Disjointed and sudden cuts are a frequent occurrence, disturbing your viewing, and, along with the heavy film grain, dissolves and iris wipes, there is an amateurish, trashy quality to the film. In contrast, Cammell lovingly captures beautiful shots of the Tuscon landscape, leaving the camera to linger and track for longer than we expect, ensuring we soak up the majesty of the setting.
Such locations and the isolated towns set within, often absorb us with their mysterious, supernatural presence. Cammell taps in to this plentifully, incorporating his unusual visual style with an eery, synth soundtrack from Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason. Mason’s soundtrack is worthy of special mention, for it makes for such uncomfortable listening with it’s piercing, spectral tones. All combined, the film carries a very Lynchian vibe – a Mid-West Twin Peaks if you will.
The feeling that this film shouldn’t work lingers throughout and it certainly will divide opinions, but good art does this, and you will no doubt find something within the piece that you find deeply satisfying. Whether it be the visual style, the enigmatic characters, Mason’s hauntingly surreal score, or simply the nostalgia of the eighties that resonates throughout; for whatever reason you will sit through the credits with absolutely no comprehension of what just happened, but supremely satisfied that it did.
Words > Sam Lawrence