WHITE OF THE EYE
Someone is killing women around an Arizona desert town. The lead investigator has his eyes on Paul, a stereo equipment salesman. The only link between Paul and the murders is the tire impressions left at the scene of the latest murder, impressions left by a very rare make of tire. Paul's wife, Joan, doesn't believe her husband is guilty but is too preoccupied with their slowly crumbling marriage and young daughter to give much thought to anything. As the body count rises and Joan begins to think her husband is cheating on her with a wealthy woman, the twin storylines of the film collide.
Ostensibly a serial killer movie, WHITE OF THE EYE emerges as something far more complex (and unusual) than a simple murder mystery. The key to the films complexity lies in its presentation. Director Donald Cammell began his career with PERFORMANCE, a film he co-directed with the great Nicolas Roeg. If there were any better match of co-directors, I would be surprised. In a way, Roeg's films feel intrinsically tied to Cammell's films and vice versa. Both men direct in a bizarrely effective and wonderfully abstract way. If WHITE OF THE EYE has a match in Roeg's catalog of films, it would be BAD TIMING, a film which features a startling mix of representations, narrative threads and schizophrenic editing, creating a film which seems to be about everything but its subject matter. Both BAD TIMING and WHITE OF THE EYE work precisely because of the risks their directors take with the material. While those risks sometimes feel like they may derail the film at any second, they ultimately end up enriching the material. Had WHITE OF THE EYE been directed in a workmanlike manner, it probably would have collapsed under the weight of its own digressions.
If you're looking for a standard serial killer film, WHITE OF THE EYE will most definitely disappoint. Precious little running time is spent on that side of the material. Murder set pieces are extremely rare but when they are presented, Cammell turns in some very Argento-esque moments. Extreme close-ups of eyeballs, constantly shifting points of view and strange juxtaposition of decoration/suffering, positively reek of Argento's influence. The actual violence however is never lingered on and rarely depicted. For example, in the opening murder sequence, we never once see a knife entering a body. In place of that bodily violence, Cammell gives us shots of red sauce being spilled onto a kitchen counter, glass breaking and wine spilling. The only time we see the effects of the violence is in the chilling murder of a woman in her bathtub, the killer slowly drowning her while holding up a mirror for her to see her own shocked expression (shades of Michael Powell's PEEPING TOM). Standard serial killer film, this is not. But that is not the story Cammell is interested in telling anyway. His real interest is in the collapsing marriage of Paul and Joan.
The final third is the films chief claim to fame. It probably isn't going to spoil much to say that Paul is the killer. The reveal is handled strangely. The killings we have witnessed are basically equated with acts of marital infidelity with Paul basically giving the old cheater's speech of "they didn't mean anything to me". Joan is safe because he loves her. Her betrayal of confidence, calling someone to come and pick up their daughter out of fear that Paul may hurt her, is what finally brings Paul's vengeance down upon her. This kind of behavior is seen often in broken relationships like this, one party is supposed to be forgiven for their major transgressions but any slight transgression against them is taken as a major slight. The following mayhem fits well within the already bizarre film but stretches credibility to its breaking point, requiring one deus ex machine too many. The climax of the film is however a grand spectacle of weirdness and easily earns WHITE OF THE EYE cult status all by itself.
There is much more to say about this film (the supernatural angles, for example, or the way it incorporates random bits of Native American mythology makes it feel every bit as eclectic and deep as Richard Stanley's DUST DEVIL) and honestly I could spend days trying to perfectly sum up my thoughts on the film. All I have written here is what came to mind as I sat down to think about it. Each viewing reveals a different angle and a new thread of story to pontificate on. Without being too hyperbolic, WHITE OF THE EYE is very much like a finely cut jewel. A simple shift in viewing perspective reveals new depth. That this film has been relegated to a little seen cult item here in the US bothers me a great deal. This is a film that deserves to be seen and discussed. It contains one of the most jarring directorial scheme I've ever seen, great performances by a dedicated cast, a wonderful musical score by Rick Fenn and Pink Floyd's Nick Mason, and a screenplay which consistently surprises. This is a truly great film and one that deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible.