This intriguing thriller is based on a novel called Mrs White credited to 'Margaret Tracy' but actual written by brothers Laurence and Andrew Klavan and was adapted for the big screen by the films director Donald Cammell and his wife China Kong. It was China that first read the book; originally Donald did not take to the story, but became more enthusiastic as filmmaking progressed. White of the Eye (1987) has been beautifully restored and recently released on Blu-ray, which gives us a chance to re-evaluate both the film and it's director.
Shot in Tucson Arizona with a musical soundtrack written by Nick Mason, drummer with Pink Floyd, and Rick Fenn, best known for his work with 10cc, the movie stars David Keith as Paul White and Cathy Moriarty as Joan his wife. This serial killer drama involves a woman hating murderer and opens with a vicious and deadly attack on a glamorous housewife in her own home. Although we only hear the violence it’s cleverly represented on screen by spilled food and broken glass. What we do witness is flashbacks that explain how Joan meets her future husband and how he treats her previous boyfriend and drives him into a sense of mental anxiety. White is a sound expert who installs stereo systems in rich peoples houses. Typical eighties avant-garde camera work is matched by the ‘mullets and fluffy perms’ and clothes of the time, strange how you can never mistake this time period? The flashback sequences under go a ‘bleach bypass’ treatment that produces the required grainy and high contrast look that the director demanded.
Donald Cammell was born in Scotland in 1934 and committed suicide by shooting himself in the head in 1996 at the age of 62, he lived for a further 45 minutes in no pain and was completely lucid believing that death should not random! This followed a drastic re-editing of his last feature film Wild Side (1995) and before his tragic death he had withdrawn his name from the film completely. An outsider and an individualist with his own unique vision, he made only four feature films.
Before becoming a moviemaker he was a very talented artist and from the time he was nineteen was earning a good living from his fascinatingly hypnotic paintings. An educated and cultivated man he travelled to Paris to paint but returned to London when it became the cultural centre of the world in the 1960’s. It was then he became captivated with the London sixties music scene, centring on the Rolling Stones and becoming a great friend of Brian Jones, but also with gangsters, aristocrats and politicians that formed part of this ‘scene’. This fascination lead to the making of his first feature film Performance in 1968, which in turn was followed in 1977 by the American film Demon Seed a science fiction horror film involving a love story between a computer and a woman, played by Julie Christie.
|Director Donald Cammell.|
In a recent interview Larry McCoskey, DOP on White of the Eye, interestingly cast some light on the director’s psyche. Explaining that Cammell’s directorial style was confrontational, even employing two DOP’s and encouraging extreme issues on set. In fact his film sets were described as controlled chaos. Although he was truly creative, McCoskey opined that Cammell certainly had issues dealing with the real world. And as we know he had problems with depression and a strange attraction to death and suicide. But he was very professional; working to a low budget and tight schedules, each location was scouted and thorough planning was carried out before any shooting began. China and Donald worked very successfully together as a partnership. Regarding White of the Eye McCoskey said that the idea was not to emphasise the violence or show the murders in detail, and after 30 years it does seem a little tame but no less ingenious. Yes it has dated mainly due to the time period it was shot in, but dress it in a modern suit of clothes and it would easily stand the test of time.