Available on DVD from Mon 31 Mar
Donald Cammell / UK / 1987 / 111 mins
Donald Cammell’s filmography is sparse and completely overshadowed by the film he had the good misfortune to make at the beginning of his career, Performance. White of the Eye was released seventeen years later and in that time Cammell only made two other films. It’s possible, therefore, to watch this as a spiritual sequel to Performance, the work of a director whose style hadn’t truly matured.
As with Performance, White of the Eye is about identity. Joanie (Cathy Moriarty) is a New Yorker living in Arizona with her husband Paul (David Keith). Paul installs stereos for a living, but he may also be a deranged murderer- at least, according to Joanie’s ex-boyfriend Mike (Alan Rosenberg).
Cammell brings a manic energy to this set-up, opening with a strikingly avant-garde POV shot and peppering the rest of it with strange angles, transitions and an emphasis – occasionally subtle – on circular forms, whether it’s the eye of the title or even a black hole. It feels like the work of a younger man, packing all his ideas into the only film he might be allowed to make. That’s not far from the truth, except Cammell was in his fifties when he directed this. The compromises he’d made before: co-directing Performance with Nicolas Roeg, helming the studio kitsch of Demon Seed and not even getting a release for 1971’s The Argument– effectively make this his debut proper.
Like many debuts, it doesn’t quite work. The script isn’t great, the musical score is insanely intrusive and it suffers from a low budget. But these are consequences of the fact that Cammell’s talent was honed in the 60s, bringing that ragged aesthetic to bear on the en-slickened cinema of the 80s. If he was any better a director, White of the Eye wouldn’t be nearly as interesting.