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Director Donald Cammell
January 13, 2003 9:07 AM   Subscribe

"Donald looked upon violence as an artist might look on paint..." Director Donald Cammell committed suicide at home on April 24, 1996. Because of the location of the gunshot wound he inflicted on himself, he stayed alive and conscious for 45 minutes. He asked for a mirror to observe his own death. Foreshadowing this, in Cammell's underrated 1987 film White of the Eye, serial killer David Keith holds a mirror up to a victim's face as she dies. Filmmaker and author Kenneth Anger said "I predicted Donald Cammell's suicide. He was in love with death." He wrote seven films and directed six, ranging from the controversial end-of-the-psychedelic-sixties counterculture gangster film Performance (starring Mick Jagger),to the schlocky Demon Seed (based on a Dean Koontz novel), in which Julie Christie is raped by a computer, to a documentary about U2. A man of unusual talent, Cammell was an enigma even to those closest to him. "Cammell knew that nothing was as ever as it looked, that there was no single, simple truth." His body of work, as diverse as it is sparse, reflects this. Three different biographers are working on Cammell projects, and a fascinating biodocumentary Donald Cammell: The Ultimate Performance was released in 1998. His films are well worth seeking out, taken as a whole, they present an interesting psychological picture of their creator, and taken separately, they're thoughtful and interesting examinations of perception, reality, violence, and the nature of power.
posted by biscotti (25 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
[more inside]
posted by lazaruslong at 9:55 AM on January 13, 2003


Stupid question-why in the crap didn't his wife call 911????
posted by konolia at 10:06 AM on January 13, 2003


Sorry lazaruslong, it didn't look as long in preview, but you're right I should have done that.

konolia: he asked her not to.
posted by biscotti at 10:09 AM on January 13, 2003


Just messing, bisc....great link.
posted by lazaruslong at 10:11 AM on January 13, 2003


in the third link above: When the emergency services were called, he was still shockingly alive, and if the ambulance hadn't had such trouble finding his home in the Hollywood Hills, he may have survived.
posted by Vidiot at 10:19 AM on January 13, 2003


[this is good]

Great stuff here biscotti, very interesting. Thanks for pulling it all together.
posted by madamjujujive at 10:38 AM on January 13, 2003


this is a fantastic post. i've never heard of cammell before, but i'll definitely be keeping an eye out for him at the video store this weekend.

(yes, i rent videos during the weekend. someone save me from myself.)
posted by fishfucker at 11:13 AM on January 13, 2003


He asked for a mirror to observe his own death.

This also happens in one of the creepier movies I've seen, Ingmar Bergman's The Serpent's Egg, when the sadist who experiments on humans takes poison, then watches himself depart 1920's Berlin.

Nobody liked the movie much, even its director (who was quite depressed at the time, because he'd exiled himself from Sweden due to income tax problems). The All Movie Guide calls it "Harsh, Disturbing, Gloomy, Bleak." But for whatever reason, it really hit home with me back in the summer of 1977, and I thought it very powerful.
posted by LeLiLo at 11:55 AM on January 13, 2003


For some reason, I just can't must much respect for "geniuses" who kill themselves.
posted by oissubke at 12:06 PM on January 13, 2003


He asked for a mirror to observe his own death.
also there's a persistent rumor that photographer Diane Arbus filmed her own suicide
posted by matteo at 12:10 PM on January 13, 2003


So don't post, oissubke. Save us the trouble of reading your condescending, off-topic, irrelevant comment.
posted by The Michael The at 12:16 PM on January 13, 2003


So don't post, oissubke. Save us the trouble of reading your condescending, off-topic, irrelevant comment.

There's a bit of irony in your statement. :-)
posted by oissubke at 12:50 PM on January 13, 2003


"Brando took the $1.4 million of his $5 million fee and walked. I'm sure he admired Donald's work, but in the end he fucked Donald over."

Why do people still give that pig money?
posted by 2sheets at 12:56 PM on January 13, 2003


So, oissubke, you can't admire someone's works without approving of their whole person and lifestyle? Many creative people have serious mental problems, and many commit suicide, does the fact that they're mentally broken and unable/unwilling to live entirely negate the value of their works for you?
posted by biscotti at 2:12 PM on January 13, 2003


As a man obessed with power is it not appropriate he take power over his own death.
posted by stbalbach at 2:23 PM on January 13, 2003


So, oissubke, you can't admire someone's works without approving of their whole person and lifestyle? Many creative people have serious mental problems, and many commit suicide, does the fact that they're mentally broken and unable/unwilling to live entirely negate the value of their works for you?

There are two schools of thought on this matter. The first school believes that it's obvious that a work should be judged without reference to artist's character. The second school believes that it's obvious that an artist's character should indeed be taken into account when judging a work.

I suppose I tend to lean a bit toward the second school of thought, simply because there's plenty of noise, crap, messages, memes, ideas, manifestos, and images in the world, and I have filter them somehow. I might as well fill my head with the thoughts of people who turned out happy, healthy and stable.

Your mileage may vary. If the messages of suicidal artists make you a better person, then I say go for it. Whatever works for you.
posted by oissubke at 2:24 PM on January 13, 2003


I can kind of see where Oiss is coming from on this. I wouldn't put the quotes around genius, because I think that suicide does not necessarily automatically demote one from a genius-level status, but on the whole, it is difficult for me to get into intellectuals who kill themselves?

The reason? Honestly, it's scary.

Intellectuals/artists/etc are supposed to be the forward thinking, transcendental bastions of enlightenment. If what they found made them kill themselves....do I really want to study it also? Nay.

All kidding aside though, I think that it's bullshit for anyone to commit suicide, especially the really smart people out there. Granted, that brings up questions about the "morality" of suicide itself, which probably (certainly) don't belong in this thread, but there it is. It is hard for me, as a human, to appreciate the work of someone who abandons the human race via suicide. We need all of the geniuses we can get. We certainly have enough of the idiots.
posted by lazaruslong at 2:26 PM on January 13, 2003


My god it's beautiful the way the crimson syrup drains away....the art in the knife, as it lathers red milk...

you are my canvas.


boys night out
posted by lazaruslong at 2:28 PM on January 13, 2003


You know, konlila raises an interesing point: Isn't that illegal?
posted by lazaruslong at 3:03 PM on January 13, 2003


the mirror/death thing is also a huge part of peeping tom.

it's interesting to look at nicholas roeg's films outside of performance and see all the similarities. even as a filmmaker and someone who has done pretty extensive research, both for academics and pleasure, on roeg's films, i wasn't all that familiar with donald cammell and his influence on performance as well as the other films he had a part in. thanks for the cool link.
posted by oog at 3:04 PM on January 13, 2003


Equating suicidality and/or mental illness with lack of character is completely and utterly despicable. At that loathsome level, you might just as well judge artistic worthiness (or character) based on an artist's electrocardiogram.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 5:13 PM on January 13, 2003


Hear hear, foldy. I don't understand why people assume a link between suicide and either lack of character or idiocy or whatever.

To get probably too personal for this board, I was very depressed and came damn close to killing myself a little over a year ago. I'm glad I didn't. I'm glad I got help (and hope), and I'm certainly glad that I feel much better now. Nevertheless, without sounding too arrogant, I think that neither my character nor my intelligence were lacking in that dark time. My mental health was just about nonexistent, though. THAT was what the problem was -- brain chemistry and bad thought patterns and whatever goes into depression, not weakness or stupidity.
posted by Vidiot at 10:12 PM on January 13, 2003


Besides, I can appreciate van Gogh's work (or Virginia Woolf's work, or Hemingway's, or Kurt Cobain's) because it's interesting and it has an effect on me. To dismiss it because of how the creator of said work died seems to be shortchanging the art.
posted by Vidiot at 10:16 PM on January 13, 2003


Yukio Mishima, anyone?
posted by Poagao at 12:47 AM on January 15, 2003


bis, great set of links. didn't see it till today. Performance is one of my fave films ever and Cammell is seriously underrated. Thanks!
posted by dobbs at 8:36 PM on January 17, 2003


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