Donald Camell: Obituary

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The Independent Online
It is an admittedly minor question, writes John Lyttle. Nevertheless, it has tantalised movie buffs since Performance was released, and will tease all the more in the wake of Donald Cammell's death: whose style - whose signature - is most stamped on what is, in many ways, the ultimate cult movie? Cammell's or his co-director Nicolas Roeg's, a question rendered all the more problematic - or idle - by the fact that both were making directorial debuts?

The obvious answer would seem to be Roeg. The splintered style, the swirling camerawork, the intense colours and reliance on scripts best described as hallucinatory (Eureka, Bad Timing, Walkabout) that mark his later work are abundantly present in Performance. But this impression is partially false. We think of Performance as Roeg's first fully-fledged vision because we're so much more aware of the Roeg canon. He, like Cammell, would have collisions with the studio system, but Roeg's movies would (until recently) receive wide distribution. Cammell's com- mercial misfires - namely the misogynist nightmare Demon Seed and the serial killer thriller White of the Eye - have barely seen the light of day, and are, unfortunately, seldom revived, so very few know that they are as visually extravagant and as dislocated as anything Roeg has offered.

The extraordinary White of the Eye in particular traffics in flashbacks, fast-cutting and a use of filters that simultaneously recalls Roeg while seeming the essence of Cammell. Likewise the film's voyeristic detachment from, but plain fascination with, the killer's sexuality and his convoluted relationship with his wife recalls Performance at its finest, as well as echoing Bad Timing.

So the puzzle of authorship remains, if puzzle it is. Perhaps Performance was - is - no more, and no less, than a meeting of minds. And technique. And obsessions. Whatever, it remains both men's crowning achievement, unless Cammell's The Wild Side springs a last minute surprise equal to White of the Eye's explosive finale.

Donald Seton Cammell, script-writer, director: born Edinburgh 17 January 1934; married 1954 Maria Andipa (one son; marriage dissolved), 1978 China Kong; died Los Angeles 24 April 1996.