White of the Eye

UK Release Date 1987
Director Donald Cammell
Starring David Keith
Runtime 111 minutes
Certificate 18
Reviewer Mark
Reviewed 5th April 2014

Back in the 80s microwaves were big. Not the flimsy tat bought in a no-frills German supermarket, but the kind you could mount on tracks, built to withstand a direct hit form a Panzerfaust. They were the satanic symbols of conspicuous consumption, churning out television dinners that resembled melting demons. In slow motion, a glamorous Tucson belle has her head shoved into the armour-plated glass, a misogynistic message-return to sender.

Are modern marvels of 80s technology in fact portals to the universe, spewing forth designer women with empty hearts with the destructive force of a black hole? The killer seems to think so. His is a Steadicam eye, prowling, floating, detecting surface detail, clean lines of nothingness that define wants perverted into needs. Flowers and meat tumble with the body, wine or blood serenade the screen. A gold fish gasps for air lying on top of a beef joint, a David and Goliath struggle between surf and turf, heart disease triumphant.

Paul White is our chief suspect. He has an operatic flair for detail, Mahler’s Symphony No.2 channelled through high-end stereo equipment. Paul installs custom made luxury, aural pleasure to the rich and vacuous. Wealthy women make advances; in a porn movie he would be an upmarket plumber of sorts, imagine the double entendre, “My graphic equalizer needs adjusting.” White is a human tuning fork; the air cavities in his head lead him to the optimum position to place his speakers. Are they the conduits from which cosmic entities address him?

David Keith plays White with a certain leonine charm. Once he swallowed a wedding ring in An Officer and a Gentleman, perhaps that deep melancholy has been reincarnated into vengeance. When Richard Gere swept up Debra Winger in his hat and arms Keith was planning in the afterlife. Keith has always had a certain cinematic duality, a mystic force around his very name. What chance a contemporary called Keith David, equally refreshing and imposing? Always the best reason to watch any movie they appeared in. Did they share that name, their soul so they couldn’t appear in a movie together, Yin and yang?

Paul White has a wife, Joan and a daughter. Joan materialised from New York a decade before, gravel voiced with Big Apple smarts, quick to abandon her punk ass boyfriend Mike DeSantos and his Mystery Machine set of wheels. Joan rasps like a Bronx rattlesnake, did she travel forward in time from Ragging Bull, breaking the fourth wall into a world of murderous colour, an even more tragic rendition of The Purple Rose of Cairo? Joan gradually becomes suspicious of her husband, is he adulterer, murderer or both? What scum lies shrink-wrapped under the soap dish? 

Is White of the Eye a Michael Mann film for the avant-garde? At times it has the gloss, the Nick Mason superstar soundtrack, are we watching Mahler’s narrative he published at the Dresden premiere of Symphony No.2 and wasn’t that known as the Resurrection Symphony? Doanld Cammell movies are rare beasts, unicorns dipping their horns for a virgin spectator, curious after watching Performance.

Of course there was Demon Seed where Julie Christie is terrorised and impregnated by a super computer and in Wild Side Anne Heche is brutally raped, that film caused Cammell to commit suicide after it was hacked to pieces by the producer. White of the Eye survives, stylish, overwrought, uneven, yet compelling. Did Cammell have a problem with women in his films? Was he any worse than Hitchcock or any number of male directors guilty of objectifying their female characters? Let’s leave that to Mike DeSantos, “You can’t change a channel, man. Future or past.”

Check out the trailer here.

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