Out of Sight

Year: 1995

Length: 90 minutes

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A closeup look at infidelity. A true story. An eavesdropper's dream.
Overview

You finally get up the courage to leave the old alcoholic boyfriend who made your life hell and he turns around and tells you he has six months to live and if you come back to him you can have the ranch when he dies. You're still young, but you're broke and you're blind. Now it's four years later and he still won't die.

A closeup look at infidelity.
A true story.
An eavesdropper's dream.

Broadcast nationally on P.O.V., the critically acclaimed PBS series of America's finest non-fiction films

Awards & Press

Praise for "Out of Sight"

"David Sutherland has spent the past decade trying to redefine the stylistic limits of the documentary. With OUT OF SIGHT he goes further, creating what ... is closer to soap opera than the traditional talking heads documentary."

-Daniel M. Kimmel, VARIETY

"A fascinating immersion in the intimate details of a stranger's life ... a great film ... pushes the documentary to a new level."

-Edward Guthmann, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

"Twin Peakish non-fiction story of a blind cowgirl who loves independence and sex." (***1/2)

-Michael Blowen, BOSTON GLOBE

"OUT OF SIGHT is an uncompromised, unexpected take on a blind woman, but what a blind woman! Put away all your politically correct assumptions...Starin is a hellion out of a 1940's Hollywood film noir." (***)

-Gerald Peary, THE IMPROPER BOSTONIAN

"OUT OF SIGHT is to blind women what THELMA AND LOUISE is to sighted women."

-THE NATIONAL BRAILLE PRESS

"Sutherland straps us in for a ride through the surreal soap opera ... few Hollywood movies these days give as good a ride." (***1/2)

-Betsy Sherman, BOSTON GLOBE

"It's hard to say what is more surprising, the story itself or the fact the Starin and the people close to her have chosen to reveal themselves on camera in such painfully intimate and image tarnishing ways."

-Michael Wilmington, CHICAGO TRIBUNE

"Filmmaker David Sutherland calls OUT OF SIGHT a 'soap-umentary.' Combining elements of a Jenny Jones or Ricki Lake talk show, Thelma and Louise, Unsolved Mysteries, and some latter-day John Ford movie, it is like nothing anybody has ever seen."

-Jonathan Storm, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER

Awards

Gold Award for Documentary Feature, World Fest Charleston, 1994

Berlin International Film Festival, 1994

Chosen as The Best of the American Film Institute International Film Festival, 1994

Outstanding Independent Documentary, New England Film and Video Festival, 1995

Full Length Reviews

PAUL KOPASZ PREVIEWS SELECTED TITLES

"One of the most fascinating films of the Louisville Film Festival (and possibly one of the best), "Out of Sight," is a documentary wrought in the form of a dramatic feature. Diane is an attractive young blind woman from Nebraska who lives with a crusty, much older boyfriend--an alcoholic equine trainer she met working on a horse farm. The footage is shot on videotape and arranged in such a way as to give the piece a plot line and, at 85 minutes, it closely resembles a typical "indie" feature film.

Indeed this is the film's greatest strength. Director David Sutherland pushes the stylistic envelope so far that it is often difficult to tell whether one is watching a documentary or a low-budget drama. Without foreknowledge, I would have been hard-pressed to tell. Like a less-sensational "Blair Witch Project," "Out of Sight" can be seen ass something of a benign puzzle, causing the viewer to wonder as much about its origins as its narrative elements.

Boyfriend Herb winds Diane back after a period of estrangement with the promise to bequeath his ranch to her when he dies--and even he assures her is imminent as he has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Diane returns and waits. And waits. And waits. The codger is still alive and after five years, and party-girl Diane is becoming increasingly restless and frustrated. She consoles herself by teaching braille and bar-hopping with her vapid blond friend, Jillian.

The monolithic moral weight of the situation creeps up quietly on the viewer. Before you know it, you've been swept up into a moral vortex worthy of Mamet or maybe even Tennessee Williams. The payoff comes suddenly in the last 10 minutes. Diane agrees to marry a boy 10 years her junior. Herb's tumor gets recharged and everybody--everybody--prays he'll die. The puzzle is no longer so benign. At once the viewer starts to wonder who ion the cast is the real villain. Diane openly worries about getting paid off--getting Herb to will her the ranch as per their deal--especially if she chooses to leave him for the younger boyfriend before Herb dies. Herb feels sorry for himself. Diane self-justifies with the help of her mom and Jillian. Everybody starts to look real, real sleazy. Where once "Out of Sight" looked like a crass documentary or a cheap indie feature, it suddenly looks like a brilliant synthesis of newsmagazine segment, soap opera and trailer-park cinema-verite."

-Paul Kopasz, LOUISVILLE ECCENTRIC OBSERVER

FILM REVIEW: OUT OF SIGHT

"Boston-based docu filmmaker David Sutherland has spent the past decade trying to redefine the stylistic limits of the documentary. With "Out of Sight" he goes even further, creating what one interview subject suggests is closer to soap opera than the traditional talking-head documentary. After a test run at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, the pic heads to the Berlin Film Festival, which should be the first of many stops on the fest and arthouse circuit.

Film's subject is Diane Starin, a 34-year old blind woman living on a ranch in Northern California. While part of the story is her blindness -- she is seen doing everything from cleaning her artificial eyes to serving as a role model for others -- it's not really the main point.

As she notes, "I think people are ready for a story about a blind woman who's raising a family, having a career, or both. What I wonder is of they're ready for a blind woman who's in her 30s living with a man who's in his 60s, in a relationship that deals with alcohol and infidelity."

The people in her life are gradually introduced in both interviews and real-life situations. In a somewhat unusual technique for docus, Sutherland shows re-enactment of incidents from Starin's past using the actual people playing themselves, including a scene where her boyfriend nearly burns them both alive inside the camper.

Sutherland doesn't try to force sympathy for Starin. She comes across as someone all too human, with much to admire but also much to criticize.

After she breaks up with her older boyfriend, he is diagnosed with cancer. She comes back to live with him in a new house they will share. When he does better than his doctors anticipated, Starin calculates whether she can afford to wait for him to die so she will inherit his share of the house.

Sutherland's cast of real-life characters aren't freaks but simply folks trying to make the best of the hand that life has dealt them. In the end, the complex relationships carry the film, not any maudlin and easy concern for a "handicapped" person.

Sutherland's gritty cinema verité style is aided by the understated stylization of the flashbacks, which use a washed-out, nearly black-and-white look to convey the sense of recollection. Western-style music is provided by Reeves Gabrels, a guitarist/songwriter with David Bowie's band Tin Machine."

-Daniel Kimmel, VARIETY

INSIGHT AND HUMOR COLOR A BLIND COWGIRL'S STORY

"Newton-based documentarist David Sutherland nukes the concept of the "inspirational" film about a handicapped subject -- and in its place something both more memorable and more compassionate -- with his new work OUT OF SIGHT, a feature about California horse trainer Diane Starin, who has been blind since childhood. Sutherland straps us in for a ride through the surreal soap opera that is the 34-year-old Starin's life. As Starin candidly opens the curtain on her personal life, recounting travails and escapades that could serve as fodder for a country-and-western ballad, we see that hers is a life hardly circumscribed by her disability. In fact, at times it's easy to forget she's blind.

Not that Sutherland sacrifices Starin's dignity in favor of a rollicking good time. Quite the contrary, one feels that Starin has been treated as a collaborator in this enterprise, and her honesty in opening up her life is a commendably gutsy move. An irresistible quote sets the ball rolling, as Starin says, "I think people are ready for a story about a blind woman who's raising a family, having a career, or both. What I wonder is if they're ready for a blind woman who's in her 30s living with a man in his 60s, in a relationship that deals with alcohol and infidelity. In other words, I don't know if America is ready for a blind girl who isn't a goody two-shoes."

The cast of characters includes Diane's mother, Harriet, who seems to approach life with much less confidence than her blind daughter. Harriet's bilious husband, Ziggy, whose kindest words about Diane are that she's "a pain," makes a couple of striking appearances. Gillian is Diane's friend and confidante; their spirited girl-talk sessions take place in the near parody settings of the boudoir and by poolside.

Then of course there's Herb, Diane's partner and lover. Their mutual passion for horses grew into a relationship, and Diane moved in with the surly old cowpoke. Herb's alcoholism became a source of sorrow and terror -- especially when she was in the passenger seat of his truck -- for Diane. Her natural randiness, coupled with a need for tenderness that Herb couldn't provide, drive her into affairs with other men.

Sutherland rations information in a way that may transgress documentary orthodoxy, but contributes to the suspense of the movie. To give away just one of these "secrets," once we've found out the gory details of Diane's relationship with Herb, we also learn that he has cancer and may have only a short time to live. So although Diane is emotionally ready to move on, she feels obliged to stay with Herb. Sutherland also stages recreations of events in Diane's life, draining the color into near black-and-white to set off these flashbacks from "reality."

Diane's "healthy vanity," as Gillian puts it, and natural friskiness make her a charismatic subject. Sutherland's camera comes along as Diane and Gillian go honky-tonkin' and follows Diane out on the dance floor with a succession of partners. But we also see Diane at work breaking horses, and in her role as mentor for a 13-year-old blind girl. Diane gives the girl a cooking lesson, using Braille-labeled ingredients, and helps her find her way around the ranch with a cane. Diane's activism in the blind community is shown to be an integral part of her life.

Few documentaries provide the edge-of-your-seat enjoyment that OUT OF SIGHT does. Come to think of it, few Hollywood movies these days give as good a ride."

-Betsy Sherman, BOSTON GLOBE

OUT OF SIGHT REVIEW

"OUT OF SIGHT launches the "P.O.V." summer season of independent nonfiction films with a bang instead of a whimper. David Sutherland's remarkable account of a 34-year-old California cowgirl, Diane Starin, has been around in art houses and at film festivals for almost two years. On television, which is always so pious about any physical disability, it still comes as a shock. That Diane has been blind since she was 18 months old has little or nothing to do with the way she conducts her life, a disorderly business of breaking horses, baling hay, washing out her glass eye before she goes to honky-tonks, and sleeping around on her sixtysomething boyfriend, all of which is cheerfully discussed on camera, including bad past times re-created for that camera by the principals themselves, including Diane's feisty mother and dreadful stepfather, in a washed-out sepia. Imagine a Bad Girl Huck Finn, or a country-and-western Philoctetes, insouciant on the verge of shameless."

-NEW YORK MAGAZINE

EYES ON THE PRIZE: "OUT OF SIGHT" MAKES DISABILTY IRRELEVANT

"Is American ready for "a blind woman who's in her 30s living with a man who's in his 60s, in a relationship that deals with alcohol and infidelity?" That's one question raised by OUT OF SIGHT, David Sutherland's engaging new documentary about Diane Starin, a woman who happens to be cheating on the seldom-sober cowboy she lives with. Diane also happens to be blind, but that's not what makes her a uniquely charismatic film subject. Rather, as anyone who's seen the film -- now enjoying an extended run at the Museum of Fine Arts -- can attest, what landed Diane in Sutherland's documentary wasn't her disability but her talent for unfettered self-revelation.

How does a documentary maker meet up with a born actress? Sutherland, the Boston-based filmmaker whose previous works include the critically acclaimed PBS documentary HALFTIME: FIVE YALE MEN AT MIDLIFE (1990) as well as a recent "American Experience" project that debunked George Washington, explains that he was put in touch with Diane by his executive producer, David Ticchi, who also happens to be blind, when Sutherland was putting together a project about stereotypes of blindness. Diane, who told him, "I think people are ready for a story about a blind woman who's raising a family, having a career, or both," had stereotype shattering on her agenda as well.

Dubbed a "soap-umentary" by its director, OUT OF SIGHT chronicles Diane's life, especially its messier aspects, which include not only her frank talk about her sexual appetite but also the affair she starts up some time after agreeing to stay with Herb, her live-in-significant other, who has been diagnosed with cancer. Among the supporting players are Diane's lively mother, her friend Gillian, and her stepfather, Ziggy, a mean-spirited fellow who jumps right into the menagerie of unforgettable non-fiction characters when his sniping about Diane reveals ugly things about himself. ("She'll give you a pork chop for a pig anytime.") Events that take place in Diane and Herb's past are re-enacted from Diane's point of view, with Herb and Diane playing themselves in dreamlike sequences that are interwoven with talking-head interviews.

Why would any couple submit themselves to the scrutiny of a filmmaker who sets up a camera in their bedroom? (One recurring shot shows the pair chewing over their relationship under the covers.) Says Sutherland, "Remember the Loud family? In "An American Family," the question you ask yourself was, 'Why would anyone do this?'" Sutherland's questions were answered when he went to California to meet Diane. "She was living with Herb. I knew she was living a double life, but I didn't know all the ramifications." Diane's motives were essentially self-interested. "She wanted people to know that she was capable." What about Herb? "He said it was because he wanted to stay with Diane."

What ensues is a portrait of a woman who serves as a big sister to a blind teenager while trying to navigate a moribund relationship with a man who admits, "I love drinking." "What became apparent as we got started was that she knew Herb as a drunk, she didn't know him that well sober. She was using the time to get to know him." Thanks to one re-enactment, we get to see what it was like for Diane when an intoxicated Herb came back late to their small camper and set it on fire.

Sutherland explains that he didn't set out to stretch the limits of documentary filmmaking with re-enactments, in the manner of, say, THE THIN BLUE LINE. Rather, when he met Diane, "We didn't realize that so much of the story took place in the past. In THE THIN BLUE LINE, Errol Morris has actors re-create the film's central incident. But when you're doing a portrait, who's your best source? I could have used actors. Or she could sit there and tell you, 'He abused me,' but you're not going to relate to it." When steering the viewer through several levels of reality, Sutherland admits, "the trickiest part was going from the past to the present." One thing that ties the film's visual themes together is an original score by Reeves Gabrels of the David Bowie band Tin Machine.

Says Sutherland, who (with co-producer and wife Nancy Sutherland) has received an invitation to bring the film to the Berlin Film Festival next month, "I think we did accomplish what we went after. We made a film about someone who happens to be blind. Because I think that whether one likes her or likes the film about her, you don't leave the film thinking about her blindness."

-Robin Dougherty, BOSTON PHOENIX