Sunday, 30 March 2014

Blu-ray Review: White Of The Eye

Following the claustrophobic 'Demon Seed', Donald Cammell - together with his wife China - wrote a screenplay based on Margaret Tracy's novel 'Mrs White'. Cammell suffered from grievous studio interference on 'Demon Seed', but 'White Of The Eye' saw him in control, resulting in a film that handsomely repays multiple viewings.

David Keith takes the role of Paul White; an audio wizard who installs hi-fi systems in the homes of wealthy Americana. The story takes place in Arizona, where a series of grisly murders suggest ritualistic slayings according to Detective Charles Mendoza (Art Evans). Mendoza is drawn towards White as a suspect when he discovers the tyres on White's vehicle match the unusual tread found at a murder scene, revealing there are only another 19 vehicles in the state with the same imported tyres. White's wife Joan (Cathy Moriarty) certainly doesn't believe her husband to be capable of such atrocities, tied to her role as wife and mother to White and their daughter Danielle.
Flashbacks occur in this engrossing story, going back ten years to when White 'stole' Joan from his buddy Mike de Santos (Alan Rosenberg). Now, Joan meets de Santos again, this time with a head injury from his time in jail and a condition (he claims is a tv channel inside his head) whereby he can see the future but do nothing to prevent destiny prevailing. With her husband surrendering to the attentions of local glamour puss Ann Mason (Alberta Watson), Joan finds her loyalty is tested to the very limit. Is Paul responsible for the murders, or a victim of circumstantial evidence?

Cammell's film certainly pulls no punches in its depiction of the murders, with the opening kill reminiscent of Dario Argento's murder scenes as a work of art. Here, the unfortunate victim has her head pushed through glass ala Argento, as flowers gracefully fall onto a floor littered with marinade. It's a supremely stylish scene, and is followed by another giallo-type murder where a woman is held underwater while a mirror is held close to enable her to watch her life slowly slipping away.
With an atmospheric score from Nick Mason and Rick Fenn - sometimes married to some sublime and very appropriate opera -'White Of The Eye' engages on practically every level, with a bevy of strong performances and a tense ending that you will either buy into or simply dismiss with regard to the presence of a key character - I'm in the former camp.

Thanks to Arrow Video, we now have the opportunity to view 'White Of The Eye' on Blu-ray, courtesy of a meticulously prepared brand new transfer taken from the original camera negative, and to delve into some fascinating extras.
Picture quality on this release exhibits strong colours, fine detail in brightly lit scenes, and the grain has been retained. I am certain fans of this film will be delighted with Arrow's work here.
The film is accompanied by an excellent commentary track from Sam Umland, who co-wrote 'Donald Cammell: A Life On The Wild Side' with his wife Rebecca. Sam notes the differences between the film and it's source novel; highlights comparisons to 'More', 'Peeping Tom', 'Columbo','The Shining', 'Point Blank', 'White Heat' and 'Pierrot le Fou'; provides fascinating information on the geographical and historical aspects of the various locations and talks about Cammell's suicide. The photography is also touched on, explaining Cammell used two steadicam operators - Alan Jones and Larry McConkey - and Sam also gives us the lowdown on the cast, mentioning David Keith declined an interview for the Cammell book, declaring he didn't wish to speak ill of the dead. Sam's commentary has real replay value, and the same can be said of the superb documentary 'The Ultimate Performance' which runs for 73 minutes and was originally screened by the BBC on 17th May 1998. This documentary alone is worth the asking price of the disc, featuring valuable interview footage of Donald's brother David, Barbara Steele, Mick Jagger, Anita Pallenberg, Myriam Gibril, James Fox, Nick Roeg, China Cammell, Kenneth Anger and more. The end result is a heightened appreciation of Cammell's all-too short career, with the lions share of proceedings focused on 'Performance'.

The documentary is followed by 'The Argument': an 8 minute short from 1972, shot by the great Vilmos Zsigmond in the Utah desert. Filmed over 7 days, 'The Argument' features Myriam Gibril playing a witch who has been demote from a goddess, with Kendrew Lascelles as a film director shooting a documentary about the wonders of the universe. Sam Umland chats about this film via another commentary track, explaining about its production history and how editor Frank Mazzola saved the film from sinking without trace. Sadly, Frank is suffering from advanced Alzheimer's and could not join Sam to discuss this visually striking piece.
'Into The White: Filming White Of The Eye' is next up, being an 11 minute piece which explains the film was saddled with a very low budget and a very tight schedule. DOP Larry McConkey tells how Cammell used to love creating conflict between crew members and that certain scenes were shot in spite of his presence.
6 minutes of footage removed from the film are also included on the disc and would have worked well in the finished product: watch out for the scene where Joan is asked if she's trying to dress like the women who were killed.
'Bleach Bypass Sequences' is an 11 min 40s version of scenes transferred from original 35mm interpositive elements showing the flashback scenes as originally shot. The finished version shows a high contrast, grainy look which we can see on this Arrow disc.
An alternate credits sequence is also included here, and there's an excellent booklet included in the passage, peppered with colour and b/w stills and featuring writing from Brad Stevens and Sam Umland. Brad's essay is fascinating, and he makes an excellent point when he declares 'White Of The Eye' has compelled many people to re-evaluate Cammell's work in 'Performance', which had possibly been seen as Roeg's baby more than Cammell's. Sam writes about 'The Argument', its production history and how Frank Mazzola found the 'lost' film and decided to resurrect it.

'White Of The Eye' is released in the UK on 31st March, and is locked to Region B. There is a standard dual format release and also a steelbook. Without doubt an early contender for many best discs of 2014 lists.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

White Of The Eye Blu-ray. Final Spec

Donald Cammell's extraordinary 'White Of The Eye' will be released on dual format on 31st March. Here's the final spec, and look out for a review here shortly.

• Brand new high definition digital transfer of the film from the original camera negative

• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentation of the film, available in the UK for the first time

• Original uncompressed Stereo PCM audio

• Optional English SDH subtitles on the main feature

• Audio commentary by Donald Cammell biographer Sam Umland

• Donald Cammell: The Ultimate Performance – 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 – 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

• The flashback scenes as originally shot, prior to the bleach bypass processing that they underwent in the final film

• Original theatrical trailer

• Alternate credits sequence

• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Nathanael Marsh

• 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.