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TV Reviews : 'Out of Sight' an Odd Mix of Genres

June 20, 1995

David Sutherland's "Out of Sight," for PBS' "P.O.V." series, tries to hybridize social documentary, intimate biography and soapy melodrama into one odd duck of a film. So odd that it's clear by the end of 90 minutes that even Sutherland is a little foggy on what it's all about.

What it's ostensibly about is the life and passions of Diane Starin, blind since she was 18 months old but utterly unlike the stereotype of "the nice blind lady" with the cane and the dog. This 30ish Texan is skilled at breaking wild horses, works with blind kids and has one messy love life.

The advance hype on "Out of Sight" compares it to "Thelma & Louise" in its portrayal of a woman who will not be made to conform. But Sutherland's film is closer to a Sam Shepard play, which typically has Westerners destroying themselves in a tightening web of self-hate, denial and foolishness. "Fool for Love," a title of a Shepard play, would easily describe Diane.

For years in a sometimes bizarre relationship with Herb, a rancher twice her age, Diane eventually learns that he is an alcoholic and a man who takes relationships far less seriously than his horses. She responds by fooling around with a lot of men. Then they patch things up. Then Herb learns he has cancer and buys a ranch that Diane will inherit when he dies. As of 1993, when the film was finished, Herb hadn't died, Diane was still stuck with him, and she had also fallen in love with a younger man.

Sutherland keenly sniffs out the dark comedy in all of this, adopting various ironic leitmotifs that deliberately place us in the role of voyeur. He cuts alternately, for instance, between Diane and Herb, snuggled in bed and talking aimlessly, and Diane and Herb, re-creating various past terrible moments in their lives together in black-and-white flashback sequences.

What made Diane do some of the foolish things she did the first time (but which we won't reveal here)? What made Diane then re-create them for Sutherland's camera? Like the terribly misleading closing song by Tracy Bonham, "Free," "Out of Sight" wants to suggest that blind people can be wild, sexually adventurous and free. What it shows, though, is a woman who has entrapped herself in one sorry situation, virtually cheating herself of the independence she yearns for.

* "Out of Sight" airs at 10 tonight on KCET-TV Channel 28.

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