Apr 1, 2013

White of the Eye

While most fans of his work would ultimately agree that his directorial debut Performance (1970) – a counter-culture cult classic he co-directed with British auteur Nicholas Roeg (The Man Who Fell to Earth, Track 29) – was the greatest film of the ill-fated Scottish filmmaker's career, painter-turned-filmmaker Donald Cammell (Demon Seed, Wild Side) would still manage to direct one of the most aesthetically artful and underrated serial killers flicks ever made, White of the Eye (1987), before he committed suicide by shooting himself in the head in 1996. Based on the the virtually unknown novel Mrs. White (1987) written by conservative mystery novelists Andrew and Laurence Klavan (but released under transsexualized pen name “Margaret Tracy”) and co-penned by the director’s young Asian wife China Kong (daughter of Chinese actress Anita Loo), who also appears in the film in a small role and who the filmmaker started a romantic relationship with when she was still jail bait (they got married when she was 18 and he was already 44!), White of the Eye follows a suave and strapping family man who also happens to moonlight as a psychopathic killer with an unquenchable thirst for murdering beauteous women in a rather ritualistic fashion in an aesthetically and thematically subversive cinematic work featuring magnificent murder scenes that could be described as a totally transcendental form of celluloid high art. As someone who began his career as a society portrait painter, Cammell lends a certain refinement to the kaleidoscopic kill scenes, thus making for a rare cinematic work where a curious combination of beautiful broads, buckets of blood, and barbaric brutality make for a singularly breathtaking cinematic experience of the luxurious libertine sort that will make more than a marginal portion of viewers ashamed at themselves for basking in the bloodlustful show. In fact, White of the Eye wantonly yet wondrously wallows in moral dubiousness, so much so that wife of the malevolent anti-hero refuses to turn in her man after learning that he is a murderously misogynistic, coldblooded killer, which upset certain female audience members at a 1988 UCLA screening due to what they saw as implausible and totally unthinkable, thus director Cammell responded with the following explanation, “I thought it would be more interesting to have her deeply in love and, when she realized he was a psychopath, forced to decide whether to abandon him, or hang on in there and confront him with it and continue to love him, even up to the point where it degenerates in bestiality.” Indeed, aside from being an uncommonly sexual and succulently stylized serial killer flick, White of the Eye is a morbidly dark romance full of psychosexual passion and perversity that portrays the killer as an executioner of both love and life as an aberrant, ultra-masculine Don Juan figure who never ceases to charm, even up until the erotically-charged, explosive ending and a work described by director Donald Cammell as an, “artistic study of man's need to destroy.”

Paul White (David Keith) may seem like a dumb hick upon a superficial glance, but he is really a cultivated country boy who loves the music of Mahler just as much as he loves murdering wild beasts and resplendent mistresses and whose murder scenes are described by an art connoisseur of a police detective as being like, "post-cubist Picasso." A respected sound expert who installs hi-fi stereo systems in the mansions of wealthy patrons in the Arizona desert, Paul has the perfect modus operandi for slaughtering opulent women in their own homes, but, rather unfortunately, he owns a rare pair of truck tires that ultimately link him to a crime scene where the same tread marks as his own are found by police in the dirt driveway of a mutilated woman’s home. The genetic son (inherited "taints" are a secondary theme of the film) of a criminal embezzler, Paul began his life as a juvenile delinquent with a rap sheet a mile long, but over the years he became both more intellectual yet viciously visceral, henceforth making an art of killing. Unfortunately for him, Paul managed to fall in love with a New York City chick named Joan (Cathy Moriarty) who he did not have the desire to exterminate when looking into the white of her eyes, thus he eventually married her and they had a daughter. Paul met Joan when she and her then-boyfriend Mike DeSantos (Alan Rosenberg) were travelling through Arizona and both of the NYC natives become intrigued by the strikingly stoic, red-blooded redneck. Naturally, considering Mike is a cosmopolitan beta-male who postures himself as an urban bad boy, Joan falls head over heels in love with true blue bad ass Paul – a macho psychopath with a devilish charm who literally has gorgeous women begging to bone him. Although Paul has most of the townspeople from his Arizona hometown vouching for his personal integrity and professionalism, the suave serial killer has a black policeman named Detective Charles Mendoza (Art Evans) on his back who is a dilettante art critic who can detect his bloody artistic signature, not to mention trouble from his wife’s ex-boyfriend Mike and a wealthy and wanton mistress who is looking for a booty call. Detective Mendoza brings both Paul and Joan in for questioning, but the killer has an alibi in the form of supposedly spending an erotic evening with his mistress, thus causing his wife to learn about his extramarital infidelity in the process.

 Like any great method actor caught in a serious shitstorm, Mike begs for forgiveness from Joan, but she inevitably finds the souvenir body parts of his victims hidden under their bathtub. Not unsurprisingly, Paul loses his cool and reveals his nihilistic philosophy and anti-woman Weltanschauung after being revealed to be a lurid ladykiller, proclaiming to his petrified wife, “This is scientific fact. You see, the female of the species is the main reason that evolution is turned inside out.” In a state of megalomaniacal messianic fever, Paul also proclaims to be the “chosen” one who has been sent to put the fairer sex “out of their misery.” Blinded by love, Joan blames herself for Paul’s insanity, stating, “I must have made you feel all alone” and she even makes the mistake of neglecting to report her pathologically homicidal husband’s sinister crimes to the police. Not long after, Paul becomes totally berserk and covers his face with red paint that makes him look like some sort of unhinged Apache samurai and decides he must kill his wife and daughter. The mother and daughter escape, but Paul eventually finds Joan in an abandoned quarry, but ex-boyfriend Mike rescues her and takes the serial killer hostage, thus resulting in a final showdown between the two diametrically opposed men: one being a deracinated and decadent city boy who would perish if he had to spend a month surviving on his instincts in the woods and the other being a primal warrior with a wolfish lust for blood who is trapped in the wrong millenium. In the end, Joan seems more perturbed by the fact she never truly understood Mike than the fact he was a bestial manhunter who killed countless women and attempted to kill her and their daughter.

Indeed, like serial killer anti-hero Mike, White of the Eye director Donald Cammell was a sexually promiscuous man who had a proclivity for charming and cheating on countless women and eventually going out in a blaze of glory by his own hand. In fact, despite the fact that his biographers said there is no evidence to support it, apparently Mr. Cammell, like one of Paul’s victims, watched himself die after he requested his wife China put a mirror up to his face during his final moments of life after putting a bullet in his brain. And, of course, one cannot forget during the final moments of White of the Eye, Paul boasts to his weaker adversary that, “I did something with my life. I left my mark,” and I am sure Cammell felt the same way after directing one of the most aesthetically subversive and morally ambiguous serial killer films ever made that is in the philosophical spirit of thinkers as diverse as Robert Ardrey, Georges Bataille, and Aleister Crowley (whose lap Cammell sat on as a little boy as he was a friend of his father), even if he only managed to direct a mere four feature-length cinematic works during his near four decades as a filmmaker. As someone who was apparently enamored with Apache Indian legends, Cammell offered the following meaning for the title of the film, which was taken from a Southern Athabaskan phrase, and, in turn, his intended effective he hoped the work would have on the filmgoers, "the phrase "white of the eye" described those who look too closely into the eye of violence and how being a witness leaves a mark upon the viewer." Unfortunately, Donald Cammell, an apparently arrogant ‘artiste’ who self-destructively destroyed more film projects than actually fulfilling them during his relatively short life, would never and will probably never get his due as a fierce and formidable auteur, but as Robert Cettl wrote in his book Serial Killer Cinema (2003) regarding White of the Eye, “Like The Stepfather, it was a genuinely disturbing thriller that was considered to have been unfairly overlooked in the wake of such ‘safe’ thrillers as Fatal Attraction and Jagged Edge.” Of course, as a work that portrays a rural rebel as a cultivated and sophisticated killer as opposed to a half-retarded coward that resents city folk and makes them 'squeal like a pig' while getting buggered in the bum, as well as a film that portrays all women as more desiring of virile and violent European-American apha-males as opposed to scrawny and sarcastic NYC Semite-like beta-males any day of the week, White of the Eye does not exactly feature the sort of propagandistic conventions that tend to be utilized by Hollywood, thus it was naturally shunned by lesser men.  Undoubtedly, after watching White of the Eye, one gets the feeling that Hannibal Lecter was hardly a real man.

-Ty E

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