Note: Arrow Video’s White of the Eye Blu-ray is locked to Region B and available from their website.
A bizarre thriller that could have only come from the 1980s, British director Donald Cammell made a comeback of sorts with White Of The Eye. Using the dusty locale of Tucson, Arizona to full effect, a stereo equipment installer comes under suspicion for multiple murders. Aside from a ludicrous climax, the murder mystery builds a convincing air of tension in a collage of raw images and a score partially credited to Pink Floyd’s drummer, Nick Mason.
Cammell made his name as a director with the 1970 crime thriller, Performance. Many credited Performance’s success to Nicholas Roeg, the co-director. Some will remember director Cammell’s name from Demon Seed, the 1977 Sci-Fi horror film starring Julie Christie. His directing career had sputtered since those films when he came out with White Of The Eye in 1987. It stars David Keith as Paul White, an odd stereo installer with a wife and young daughter. The story is about a man in a small desert community outside of Tucson, suspected to be responsible for several gruesome murders. Paul is the primary suspect while dealing with marital issues of his own that involve cheating. There is an odd tension within the Whites’ household that becomes explicitly revealed as the story builds.
White of the Eye is a gritty, raw cocktail of slasher flick and chaotic imagery. The present-day narrative moves forward detailing Paul’s life, while uncertain flashbacks to the 1970s paint a strange picture of how Paul met his current wife, Joan (Cathy Moriarty). Before meeting Paul, Joan had been dating Mike (Alan Rosenberg). That little love triangle drives the core for Cammel’s film, leading to a highly unbelievable conclusion. What had been a tight dance of mystery and murder for the first two acts devolve into Bizarro land for a wild, over-the-top finale.
White of the Eye is not a complete success, though it has enough interesting elements to keep one entertained for most of its nearly two hours. The distinctive score and great usage of a few key songs act as the cherry on top of Cammell’s unusual aesthetic choices. Some of the middle act is a bit incomprehensible; one has to pay very close attention as the time-frame switches back and forth. The directing is better than the confused editing, leading to occasional holes in the plot.
Arrow Video delivers a satisfactory transfer for White of the Eye, with a few caveats. This was not a particularly big film and its commensurate budget (filmed in only thirty days) was not geared towards demo-quality cinematography. Everything in this 1080P presentation looks rough, though probably close to the intended aesthetic by its creators. Here is what Arrow Video has to say about the film transfer, directly reproduced from the included booklet:
The original 35mm negative was scanned in 2K resolution on a pin registered Arriscan. The film was fully graded using the Nucoda Film Master colour grading system… Thousands of instances of dirt, scratches and debris were carefully removed frame by frame. Damaged frames were repaired, and density and stability issues were significantly improved.
The flashback sequences in White of the Eye were originally subjected to a bleach bypass lab process, blowing out highlights, reducing detail and increasing contrast for stylistic effect. This look has been faithfully retained in this presentation. Likewise, there are a number of instances throughout the film where creative combinations of heavy diffusion, lighting and lensing employed for artistic effect has resulted in occasional fluctuations of focus and detail. These areas have been left as they appeared in the film’s original release.
Everything about the transfer sounds good in theory, though the camera negative does not appear to have been in the best shape to begin with. The picture quality results on Blu-ray are middling at best. The thick, dense grain is extremely noisy, especially in the bleached flashbacks. It was a stylistic choice but one that produces a poor visual experience. Even the present-day exteriors are relatively soft and lack detail, with less actual resolution than most 2K film scans of recent vintage.
The negative is largely in stable condition with okay color saturation. A few nicks and scratches pepper its 1.85:1 proper framing but they are incredibly brief and inconsequential. This is not the best-looking film transfer I’ve seen from the film’s era. One shouldn’t expect a normal Blu-ray experience of pristine clarity. Arrow Video did everything correctly but were obviously limited by the condition of the extant film elements. As usual, they endow it with a stellar AVC video encode maxed out on a BD-50. A touch of sharpening produces a handful of small halos.
Arrow went back and also restored the original stereo soundtrack for White of the Eye. This time the new work produces superior results, as this mix sounds excellent coming from a 1987 independent film. Here is what Arrow had to say about the included 2.0 PCM Stereo option:
The soundtrack was transferred from the original magnetic tracks, with instances of hiss, bumps, clicks, and other examples of audio distortion restored or improved.
My hat is off to the audio restoration, the distinctive score by Nick Mason and Rick Fenn comes through in clean, resounding fidelity. This is a satisfying stereo mix which plays around with the spatial presentation, including panning and a tremendous low end. The smart usage of a few Pop songs adds a lot to the film itself.
Optional English SDH subtitles display in a white font.
Arrow has made White of the Eye available in their now standard Dual Format configuration, which includes both a DVD and Blu-ray version of the film. For a limited time, a steelbook version is also available.
This is a meaty batch of special features, including a comprehensive documentary about Cammell and an audio commentary by his biographer. Arrow Video’s releases are known for their unique cover art and lavish booklets, this one is no exception. If I had one criticism, the booklet has to be read after viewing the film, for it gives away almost the entire plot. There is an interesting backstory behind the included short feature, The Argument. It was intended as a test shoot for one of Cammell’s other projects and remained undiscovered until after his death, when his friend finished it in tribute.
- Audio commentary by Donald Cammell biographer Sam Umland
- Donald Cammell: The Ultimate Performance (73:10) – This feature length documentary by Kevin Macdonald and Chris Rodley looks over the life and career of the rebel filmmaker and features interviews with Cammell and his closest friends, family and colleagues including Nicolas Roeg, Mick Jagger, Kenneth Anger, James Fox and many more
- The Argument (11:30) – a 1972 short film by Cammell, gorgeously shot by Vilmos Zsigmond in the Utah Desert. Rediscovered and assembled by Cammell’s regular editor Frank Mazzola in 1999, it is viewable with optional commentary by Sam Umland
- Rare deleted scenes, newly transferred from the original camera negative, with commentary by Sam Umland (05:18)
- “Into the White” interview with director of photography Larry McConkey (10:58)
- The flashback scenes as originally shot, prior to the bleach bypass processing that they underwent in the final film (11:39)
- Alternate credits sequence
- Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Brad Stevens and Sam Umland, and a previously unpublished extract from the memoirs of producer Elliott Kastner, illustrated with original archive stills.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
Note: Due to technical issues, screen shots are not available for this review. Images have been provided by Arrow and are not representative of the Blu-ray’s image quality.