WHITE OF THE EYE, seemingly perhaps the least compromised of auteur Donald Cammell's brief but rewarding oeuvre, gets a special edition Blu-ray release courtesy of Scream Factory.
A killer is cutting a swath through Arizona targeting wealthy women, but where most investigators see chaos in the gruesome mutilations, CID detective Mendoza (Art Evans, FRIGHT NIGHT) sees the work of an artist ("I'm talking post-cubist Picasso"). A set of distinctive tire tracks near the home of the latest victim leads him to Paul White (David Keith, AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN), a customized stereo installer with a figurative inbuilt tuning fork between his eyes living in the outback city of Globe despite having a waiting list of wealthy clients. Although all is not so rosy beneath Paul's seemingly idyllic family life with brash wife Joan (Cathy Moriarty, RAGING BULL) and "anti-social" daughter Danielle (Danielle Smith) are the usual skeletons, including a persistent "desperate housewife" of a client (Alberta Watson, THE KEEP) and the particulars of how the couple got together ten years before when Joan and boyfriend Mike (Alan Rosenberg, MIRACLE MILE) stopped in Globe to fix his 8-track; but beneath that are things far more disturbing. As Mendoza looks for more than circumstantial evidence about and his partner's (Michael Greene, TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.) profile of Paul as a "non-conformist", Joan has discovered that Mike has returned to the area after a stint in Attica looking worse for wear and imploring her not to tell Paul that she has seen him.
Based on the novel "Mrs. White" credited to Margaret Tracy, a penname for novelist Andrew Klavan and his playwright brother Laurence, WHITE OF THE EYE was only the third of four features fully-realized by Donald Cammell who had replaced Brian DePalma on DEMON SEED seven years after making his feature debut with co-director Nicolas Roeg on PERFORMANCE and would commit suicide shortly after his final film WILD SIDE was butchered by Nu Image. Marketed as a slasher, the film has bravura moments of giallo-esque violence (there is actually no blood in first murder with all of the red liquids splattered in the victim's death throws and killer's cleaver blows actually a roast's marinade and smashed bottle and glass of red wine), but it is more of a series of artful juxtapositions of past and present, modern and primitive, lust (even love) and violence; oppositions co-existing within the film's killer and revealed piecemeal throughout before the film allows Keith to go fully off the rails in the tense extended third act which may seem obligatory in content but is never quite so predictable in execution or performance ("What's ten years, when you're in love?") There are more than a few holes in the plot, with Rosenberg's Mike abruptly deployed as a rather poor red herring (his broken down car has the same tires as the killer); but it's a fascinating stylistic exercise with assured and compelling lead performances, stunning photography by Steadicam operator Larry McConkey (ANGEL HEART) and Alan Jones (TOO BEAUTIFUL TO DIE) of the unique Arizona vistas, and a score by 10cc's guitarist Rick Fenn and Pink Floyd's Nick Mason – edited by composer George Fenton (THE COMPANY OF WOLVES) – that compliments the film's visuals as much as the use of Mahler, Leoncavallo's "Pagliacci", Hank Williams, and Hot Chocolate.
Given scant theatrical release by Palisades Entertainment and then released to video by Paramount (who also distributed Palisades' BRAIN DAMAGE and JACK'S BACK, the latter due out from Scream Factory next year), WHITE OF THE EYE developed a cult following via tape and cable screenings (including letterboxed airings in the late nineties) before getting a DVD release in Holland featuring a 16:9 transfer and little else. Last year, Arrow Video released a special edition in standard and steelbook cases featuring a new 2K scan of the original camera negative. Scream Factory's Blu-ray/DVD combo utilizes the same spectacular master and their 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen encode is virtually identical. It goes without saying that both blow the tape release out the water, but here one can easily see the differences between the contemporary footage and the flashbacks which utilized bleach bypass for a contrastier look with more subdued colors. Co-cinematographer McConkey revealed in an interview that they were not able to see rushes until after the first week of shooting when they learned that Jones' experiments with diffusion and underexposure looked "gnarly", so not all of the textural choices were intentional (one flashback sequence taking place in a dark interior is particularly underexposed and grimy-looking). While Arrow offered the film's Dolby Stereo soundtrack in uncompressed LPCM 2.0 stereo, Scream provides a 5.1 bump-up in addition to the 2.0 track in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio. Optional English SDH subtitles also identify the songs and transcribe the lyrics.
Ported over from the Arrow release is a commentary by Sam Umland who authored (with wife Rebecca) a biography of Cammell. He discusses the film's visuals and their references to modern art (also mentioned in the dialogue) and primitivism as well as the unacknowledged artistic nature of the film's killer. Umland also discusses the source novel – which was set in suburban Connecticut – and the ways in which the Cammells deviated from it, as well as details of the shooting locations as they were then and now (one interesting note in the optional commentary for the deleted scenes is the location of the gas station where Joan comes across Mike again as being some ways away from Globe while the theatrical cut inadvertently suggests that he is closer by). He also discusses Cammell and his partner China Kong (who co-wrote the script here and plays a diner waitress), as well as the influence of COLUMBO on the contrasts between Mendoza's style of detecting and that of his partner. Also ported over from the Blu-ray is the aforementioned interview with McConkey titled "Into the White" (11:00) in which describes the ways the picture was made sometimes in spite of Cammell who he says fostered conflicts between cast and crew members, including hiring both him and Jones as cinematographers without telling them. They called a truce and decided to adapt the British system with Jones as lighting cameraman and himself as operating cameraman (McConkey also operated the Steadicam throughout). He describes how the low budget dictated that they take the main actors with them to the location scout and do as much blocking as possible in pre-production. McConkey took a video camera with him and shot this, allowing him to edit together a rough version of the film for reference.
Exclusive to the Scream release are interviews with actors Rosenberg and Evans. In "Into the Vortex" (17:51), Rosenberg described how engaging he found Cammell and his wife who the actor felt made it possible for the director to function. He is in awe of the film's style and photography as an expression of the director's stream of consciousness, as well as in his fellow actors. He also describes how Moriarty's then-husband/manager Carmine D'Atta alienated the cast, crew, and the locals by hunting down a mountain lion with a handgun. In "Eye of the Detective" (15:36), Evans discusses how Cammell wanted to use him to the extent of paying off the other actor hired for the part and accommodating his schedule working simultaneously on the film RUTHLESS PEOPLE. He also expresses admiration for the director while also acknowledging his difficulty sometimes expressing what he wanted out of the cast and crew. Also ported over from the Arrow release are two deleted scenes that British distributor Cannon removed after submitting the film to the BBFC (who approved the film without cuts). Although film elements were available for these scenes, they could not be restored because the audio was missing so Umland provides commentary on the dialogue and the importance of the scenes to the narrative. Both scenes feature actor John Diehl (MIAMI VICE) who does not appear in the theatrical cut.
Also ported over is the film's alternate title sequence (2:27) which is identical to the version on the finished film but for the card which credited both Diehl and Michael Greene. Since the former's two scenes were removed from the theatrical cut, the feature version of the title sequence substitutes a card with Green's credit only. The bleach bypass sequences (11:50) before processing from the Arrow release have also been included here. Scream Factory has not ported over two rather substantial extras: "The Ultimate Performance", a 1998 feature-length documentary by Kevin McDonald and Chris Rodley and the 1972 short film "The Argument" which was shot by Vilmos Zgismond utilizing Panavision camera equipment he was using on Robert Altman's IMAGES. The short was left unfinished until the nineties when Cammell's editor Frank Mazzola edited together the surviving material. While these extras are important for Cammell fans, they are unrelated to WHITE OF THE EYE, so let's hope they show up if some company can get their hands on WILD SIDE (which Mazzola also had the opportunity to restore to its intended cut). Scream has provided a reversible cover for this release, and the reverse is of course the better choice of artwork. (Eric Cotenas)
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