Tag Archives: Nicolas Roeg



Format: Dual Format (DVD + Blu-ray)

Release date: 28 März 2016

Distributor: Eureka Entertainment

Director: Nicolas Roeg

Writer: Paul Mayersberg

Based on the book Who Killed Sir Harry Oakes? by: Marshall Houts

Cast: Gene Hackman, Theresa Russell, Rutger Hauer

UK, USA 1983

130 mins

Nicolas Roeg’s overlooked saga about the spectacular rise and fall of a gold prospector is a rich and audacious masterwork.

English literature sprang from two works of the 17th century, the plays of William Shakespeare and the King James Bible. One tradition is opulent, chaotic, luxurious and indulgent; the other is disciplined, austere, skinny and sharp. One is a meadow; the other’s a lawn. And so it is with British cinema. We have the lawn cinema of David Lean, Merchant Ivory and The King’s Speech, and we have the wild flowers and nettle stings of Lindsay Anderson, Ken Russell and Ben Wheatley. The outstanding artist of the latter tradition is Nicolas Roeg, who from his collaboration on Performance in 1970 went on to direct a string of bizarre, crotchety, uncomfortable and fiercely odd masterpieces. Following the acknowledged brilliance of Walkabout, Don’t Look Now and The Man who Fell to Earth, Bad Timing saw Roeg entering the 80s with a fractured sexual relationship and a typically daring play on chronology. The obstinate insistence on originality was not well received in a decade that would prize muscles and franchises.

His follow-up Eureka in 1983 likewise sailed against the prevailing winds of capitalist triumphalism and nascent yuppiedom. Gene Hackman plays Jack McCann, a prospector in the frozen Yukon, battling against the elements and whose cussed stubbornness is finally rewarded with a gold strike. If things spill and smash in the dirty Venice of Don’t Look Now, here in Eureka everything bursts. It might be the back of a suicidal man’s head as the bullet smashes through it, or it could be the wall of a cave as it collapses and almost drowns Jack in a gold-laden torrent. The irreversible suddenness of the now is caught by the title – an instantaneous revelation of how the universe operates – and Roeg’s interests are a deep consideration on the hidden cogs and wires that pull at life and fate and the violence that can at any moment flare up.

With the gold found and riches won, Roeg and screenwriter Paul Mayersberg overleap Jack’s success and land once more in failure decades later. Now Jack is the richest man in the world, living on a Caribbean island surrounded by natives he holds in racist contempt, a wife he largely ignores and a sycophantic and untrustworthy friend Charles (Ed Lauter), who is conspiring against him. His one consolation might be his daughter Tracy (Theresa Russell) with whom he shares a close friendship, but her elopement and marriage to playboy Claude (Rutger Hauer) suggest that Jack is being destroyed by the gold that has made him rich. Mickey Rourke and Joe Pesci are two mobbed up accountants seeking, with the sneaky aid of Charles, to open a casino on the island and slowly realizing that Jack is an immoveable object with too much ‘fuck you’ money to be bought.

‘Once I had it all. Now I just have everything,’ Jack says. His self-mythologizing as the ultimate self-made man – ‘I never lived off the sweat of another man’s brow’ – and his Croesus-like wealth don’t however make him invulnerable and there is a weary acceptance to his fate as he, like Kurtz in Apocalypse Now (Roeg would later make a TV movie adaptation of Heart of Darkness), welcomes his murderers into his lair either as a blessed relief or a longed-for challenge. But when it comes Jack’s murder is no soft euthanasia but one of the most brutal and violent slaughters ever put on screen. With the rain pouring outside and a blow torch brought into play, it is almost as if Jack is an ancient God who needs not simply to be killed, but to be cleansed, defaced and utterly destroyed. His murder is preceded by a black magic orgy that Claude participates in. Sex bursts through Eureka as a violent compulsion, an appetite to be assuaged, but also a link to life and death moments. Jack will be guided to the gold by a brothel-keeper/soothsayer and Claude’s orgy is an attempt to establish an alibi and also cleanse the would-be assassin.

The remaining court scenes are an extended coda as the legal formalities of blame and aftermath insufficiently wrap up the violent eruption while the money men sit at the back. It is now Tracy who shows that her father’s obstinate will has lived on in her, but now graced by her own continued zest for life and capacity to love.

Eureka is a bold uncompromising work by a filmmaker at the height of his powers who seems intent on throwing it all away. Its influence can be seen throughout Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece There Will Be Blood. Today more than ever it seems a prescient critique of a philosophy that places so much value on a rare but practically unaccomplished metal.

John Bleasdale

White of the Eye

White of the Eye

Format: Blu-ray + DVD

Release date: 31 March 2014

Distributor: Arrow Video

Director: Donald Cammell

Writers: Donald Cammell, China Cammell

Based on the novel by: Margaret Tracy

Original title: Ningen jôhatsu

Cast: David Keith, Cathy Moriarty, Mike Desantos, Art Evans

USA 1987

110 mins

Despite having made only four films, not all of them completed to his satisfaction, Donald Cammell has left a substantial legacy. Performance (1970), co-directed with Nicolas Roeg, has entered rock history, thanks to Mick Jagger, who was probably channelling the late Brian Jones, and definitely sleeping with co-star Anita Pallenberg, Keith Richards’s girlfriend. Cammell’s only other film that decade was Demon Seed (1977), an occasionally effective adaptation of a Dean Koontz sci-fi/horror novel that disappointed anyone looking for another Performance. His next film, the psycho-thriller White of the Eye, appeared in 1987. After seeing his final movie Wild Side (which starred Christopher Walken, Joan Chen and Anne Heche) heavily re-edited by the producers, Cammell committed suicide in 1995.

Of his four films, only Demon Seed and White of the Eye were released in Cammell’s intended form, and it’s probably no coincidence that they are his most traditional, accessible efforts. Cammell left behind a long list of abandoned projects; his only other commercial releases are a handful of short films and a little-seen music video for U2’s hit single ‘Pride (In the Name of Love)’.

Like most psycho-thrillers, White of the Eye begins with a murder, as a wealthy woman is followed back to her isolated home in the Tucson desert and slain by an unseen stranger. Unlike most similar films, Cammell shows us very little in the way of bloody violence, although there’s no doubt what’s happening. Instead he concentrates on the chaos caused by the assault: a wine bottle smashes, a glass leaks its contents across the work surface, fresh flowers fall to the floor, a cooking pot shatters (spilling the only blood shown in the scene). The two murders are bloodless but make a notable impact thanks to Cammell’s careful use of violence and a handful of memorably surreal images, like a goldfish splashing about in a cooking pot . In the light of later events, one moment in particular seems oddly prescient: a dying victim observes her own death throes in a hand mirror (according to some accounts, after shooting himself Cammell asked for a mirror to see the self-inflicted wounds).

From there White of the Eye moves into standard police procedural territory, as detectives match tyre tracks found at the scene of one of the murders to (among others) local resident Paul White, played by David Keith. White lives with his wife Joan (Cathy Moriarty) and daughter Danielle and makes a living as a sound engineer, fitting high-end amplifiers and sound systems for his wealthy neighbours. Keith and Moriarty are both excellent and contribute greatly to the overall impact of the movie. Unfortunately they can do little to remedy the film’s major defect: pacing. After the blitz attack of the first murder, White of the Eye settles into a slow-moving groove that robs the material of any real sense of urgency or danger, even when Paul is being questioned by the police. A subplot about Paul’s infidelity becomes essential to the narrative later on, but at the time those scenes drag heavily. It’s not until the second murder that Cammell begins to pick up the pace, having spent the first hour setting up the characters and situations in preparation for the film’s hectic final act.

Despite the pacing problems, White of the Eye has strong points, not least Keith and Moriarty’s credible, convincing performances. On a visual and audio level the film consistently impresses, whether it’s the choreographed chaos of the first murder or the way the camera glides over the abandoned quarries and pits that make up the distinctive Arizona wilderness. Although the Arizona landscape is largely man-made, the angular and bright white buildings look utterly out of place against that background. The same applies to Cammell’s characters. It’s a thoroughly incongruous setting for the trappings of 1980s culture, whether it’s the high-tech sound equipment Paul works with or the faintly ludicrous perms and high heels the residents wear. The image is reinforced by Nick Mason’s score, which mixes the atmospheric psychedelia of 1970s Pink Floyd with Rick Fenn’s restrained but evocative slide guitar, hovering on the boundary between blues and rock.

Casual viewers might find themselves frustrated by Cammell’s initial lack of interest in plot and suspense, but White of the Eye does reward patience, even if the end results don’t reach the same level as Michael Mann’s Manhunter, released less than 12 months previously.

Jim Harper