At only one point does the documentary OUT OF SIGHT belabor the obvious: when its subject, Diane Starin, says that if her true story were a soap opera nobody would believe it. Starin, blind since early childhood (both eyes were surgically removed due to cancer of the optic nerve), is a
rangily attractive, 30-ish woman leading an active life in rural northern California, taming and riding horses, and line dancing at local country-and-western clubs. Less capable filmmakers might have turned the notion of a sightless cowgirl into an inspirational profile-in-courage. Boston-based
filmmakers David and Nancy Sutherland scrutinize Starin's world and emerge with a more troubling portrait.
Diane lives on a ranch and on the road with her partner/lover Herb, a laconic old horseman fully twice her age, but the odd-couple relationship has become a burden for both of them. His classic cowboy individualism includes a taint of alcohol and a mean streak that has threatened Diane's safety on
more than one occasion (remarkably, Diane and now-sober Herb help in re-enacting for the camera a drink-fueled incident in which their RV caught fire). Diane, for her part, is a habitual flirt who leaves Herb alone while cruising the bars. Eventually she nets a younger, steady boyfriend and breaks
off from Herb. Yet she resumes living with him, for less than romantic reasons. The old cowpoke is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and all parties agree that when Herb dies Diane should inherit his money and property. But Herb doesn't die. Months stretch into years, and he's still going strong,
leaving Diane, her new beau, their respective families and the viewer waiting uncomfortably by the fadeout for the other boot to drop.
David Sutherland referred to OUT OF SIGHT as a "soap-umentary," and there's a voyeuristic quality to eavesdropping on Herb and Diane's (literal) pillow talk. One also yearns for a more concrete theme to justify the fly-on-the-wall prying. But as a piece of compelling American gothic, OUT OF SIGHT
has few equivalents in fact or fiction. The filmmakers do not judge their cast for the questionable choices they make, though other witnesses weigh in with opinions, especially Diane's grumpy stepfather Elmer `Ziggy' Zitka, who slams the girl as a witchy manipulator. A look at this guy hints why
youthful Diane may have had to hone her survival skills, but as events progress it's hard not to recall Ziggy's ugly words.
If the heroine indeed comes off as a seriously flawed, three-dimensional personality, that's a privilege seldom afforded to the handicapped onscreen, and blind audiences responded enthusiastically the Sutherland's film--at least those who got the chance, for OUT OF SIGHT saw a scattershot domestic
release in the USA (in contrast to Australia, where it toured mainstram cinemas). David Sutherland said he felt the film irked the insular documentary film community with its unconventional subjects and their non-trendy social class. "Deaf is sexy," was the feedback, according to Sutherland.
"Blind is like your worst nightmare," though by the conclusion of this strange story one has largely forgotten about Diane's disability, such is the effect of one of the most maddening open endings since Frank R. Stockton's "The Lady or the Tiger?"
But offscreen there was a resolution, albeit typically twisted. Diane did come into an inheritance--from sour Ziggy, who died after the film wrapped. As she began plans for her own horse ranch, Diane and her boyfriend moved in with her widowed mother. Herb, his cancer in remission, was reportedly
heartbroken but still dutifully attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. (Adult situations, substance abuse, profanity.)
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- Released: 1994
- Rating: NR
- Review: At only one point does the documentary OUT OF SIGHT belabor the obvious: when its subject, Diane Starin, says that if her true story were a soap opera nobody would believe it. Starin, blind since early childhood (both eyes were surgically removed due to ca… (more)