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A disappointing feature, but Arrow's Blu-ray includes an excellent documentary in the extras
on 26 June 2015
Despite being the creative force behind Performance, it’s all too easy to see why the co-director Donald Cammell had to appoint after completely alienating the crew, Nicolas Roeg, went on to greater glories while he never even developed much of a cult reputation despite ticking all the requisite boxes (a skewed worldview, constant fights with producers and distributors, a handful of barely distributed box-office flops that impressed the odd critic): his films are full of half developed ideas and shifts in tone that often mistake chaos, onscreen and off, for creativity. Case in point White of the Eye, a serial killer drama - it’s too devoid of tension and unsettling mood to be called a thriller - that sounds much more interesting on paper than it does on screen. Not that it doesn’t have the odd section that creates a mood all its own, but it’s strangely uncompelling before an increasingly silly last act throws in not one but two psychos for a finale that just leaves you admiring the actors for playing it so straight as the writer-director throws credibility completely out the window after spending so much time creating a convincing rural blue collar milieu.
At its heart are two fine performances from David Keith and Cathy Moriarty, and they do more to keep the film on track that Cammell does. Keith’s small town audio engineer and decent family man finds himself on the suspects list in series of murders of wealthy women because he’s one of 42 people in that state to have bought a certain kind of tyre. No-one really seems to believe he’s done it and even his wife (Moriarty) is more concerned that he’s been cheating with one of his customers, the film focussing on their frayed but passionate relationship while the investigation by Art Evans’ Mahler and Piccasso-loving cop occasionally intrudes, jostling for scraps of screen time with bleach bypassed flashbacks of Moriarty’s earlier relationship with Alan Rosenberg (the only other potential suspect the film offers the audience) that brought her and Keith together. When the various strands finally collide in the last third, Cammell doesn’t really know how to resolve them: there are attempts to juxtapose mundane domesticity with horrendous crimes, the makeup design tries to combine the earlier hints of Native American mythology in the way the victims’ body parts were arranged with Kabuki Theatre, some standard slasher in the house plot mechanics and the where-did-he-come-from reappearance of one character that you suspect had the few people in the audience laughing in all the wrong places.
The result, like Cammell’s other films (Demon Seed, Wild Side) feels like he was humming a half-remembered song that had been running around inside his head but constantly turning into a different one before he could quite put his finger on the tune. It’s the kind of off-kilter unresolved approach to ideas that some find genius but the majority just find undisciplined and unsatisfying: it’s simply a matter of personal taste which conclusion you’ll reach. Mark me down as one of the latter.
Arrow’s Blu-ray/DVD combo has an acceptable transfer that’s not without some moments of digital noise in the darker scenes, though nothing as excessive as some of their earlier Argento releases before they got a bit more serious about quality control. It’s in the extras package that it excels, with pride of place going to Kevin Macdonald and chris rodley’s 73-minute BBC documentary Donald Cammell: The Ultimate Performance, which brings together an impressive array of collaborators (Roeg, James Fox, Mick Jagger and Barbara Steele among them) as well as friends and family and lengthy interviews with Cammell himself to chronicle his self-destructive nature and messy career: as one friend notes, his fascination with suicide was so great it was almost as if he deliberately sabotaged his career to remove any obstacle to finally committing it in an act he turned into a perverse kind of performance. It tends to focus heavily on Performance with only White of the Eye getting much attention of his films - his disastrous final film, Wild Side, that many felt lead to his suicide is passed over fairly briskly - but it’s a fascinating portrait of a man whose character flaws kept him from realising his potential that’s a lot more interesting than most of his work.
Also included are an audio commentary by Cammell’s biographer Sam Umland; two deleted scenes with John Diehl (who is still billed in the end credits despite no longer appearing in the finished film) with Umland’s commentary describing the missing audio; alternate opening credits; the flashback sequences without the bleach bypass visual effect, which almost play like a short film; a reconstruction of Cammell’s unfinished 1972 short film the argument by his friend and longtime editor Frank Mazzola; an interview with one of the film’s two cinematographers, Larry McConkey, that attests to Cammell’s passive aggressive love of creating conflict (true to form Cammell told neither cinematographer that he’d hired the other); and a booklet.