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Reviews

White of the Eye

White of the Eye

Donald Cammell

UK, 1987

Credits

Review by Rumsey Taylor

Posted on 09 February 2007

Source Norstar Home Video VHS

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“He just butchered my hair,” says a woman of her new hairstyle in an afternoon conversation with a friend that will shortly be interrupted by her murderer: her suddenly agape mouth is covered by a gloved hand—ours, as the camera staging shifts unexpectedly into first person. The woman’s eyes remain wide open, and the view encloses on one as it darts frantically to and from the corners of the frame in a montage that finds one of her feet fumbling for balance and knocking over a wine bottle, producing blades of shattered glass, and a vase of roses tumbling in slow motion.

It’s a sequence that distinctly recalls the make of Dario Argento’s gialli, but the varied cinematographic tactics on display will not inform the remainder of White of the Eye. A visual discrepancy is established that lends the murder additional profanity; the implicative camerawork and montage overwhelm the senses with too many aural and visual keyframes to immediately arrange into sequence.

There are other tactics that forward this discrepancy: the soundtrack is comprised of Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing” as well as Luciano Pavarotti, both reprised throughout the film. It’s not consistent, and shouldn’t be as it’s another in a variety of tactics that burdens the viewer’s senses, improving the bludgeon of intersperses of violence or the quite seductions that precede some of the murders. Flashbacks are shot in grainy, saturated 16mm, and shown at key intervals, lending events of the present additional and unforeseen information. These occur unexpectedly, and are arranged chronologically; White of the Eye has two timelines that one must consider in an effort to discern the killer.

The most eligible suspect is Paul White, a home audio craftsman and married father who is both genial and professional to everyone he meets. He’ll enter a living room, close his eyes and emit a sustained drone much in the same way a bat must in order to wage the proximity of objects around him. He opens his eyes and immediately begins pointing toward the corners of the room, declaring the optimum locations for rear channel speakers. He’s not obsessed with his technology, per se, but it does seem to be his preference in comparison to the delights of a woman. He returns home one night and lies with his wife on a couch; the camera follows his hand down her slender body, and then toward a remote control to engage his stereo.

His afternoons are spent installing customized audio equipment in the homes of upper-class residents; one woman in particular greets his arrival in only a slip, and dangles seductively around a footboard as he kneels around an end table in the corner. “I don’t trust you,” he’ll later remit. “Why do you need to trust me,” she retorts. Shortly hereafter, the woman’s neighbor is found dead in her bathroom, her body strewn in pieces across the tile floor.

There is much coincidence between Paul and these crimes. The police approach him, a circumstance that troubles his wife, Joan, less so than her intuition. Her distrust (she suspects an affair between he and one of his high-profile clients) and badgering produce Paul’s admissions of guilt—or rather, admissions of insanity. This exchange is intercut with footage of the two’s meeting some three years prior: Joan is from New York, and traveled with her boyfriend in a road trip intent to arrive in LA. At a pit stop in Arizona, Paul is enlisted to repair their stereo. Replacing an 8-track in their car, Paul is distracted by Joan’s obnoxious partner as he raises his pistol and fires. The two will later go on a hunting trip that results in Paul taking a gigantic bite out of his first kill; it stains the lower half of his face in blood, and he smiles eager toward his shocked compadre.

His guilt affirmed, Paul locks Joan in the attic and prepares, it seems, his own violent demise, painting the bottom half of his face red (his delirious countenance analogous to that of the aforementioned flashback), wielding a rather enormous machine gun, and adhering dynamite around his waist and chest. The smile he has is familiar, the polite demeanor of his audio craftsman rendered a flawless façade.

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