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Le Cinema Dreams Film Essay: Eyes of Laura Mars - 1978

Apr 12, 2017



    There are some movies you fall in love with which seriously call into question your judgment, aesthetics, and sanity.These are films that fall outside of the easy-to-rationalize pleasures of camp, the above-criticism-snobbery of cult,and the so-subjective-it doesn't-bear-discussion reverence of geek-culture franchises. These are the movies whichappeal to you for reasons (in the words of Barbarella's Durand-Durand), "That are beyond all known philosophies."

    Eyes of Laura Mars is such a film. A well-crafted, imaginative, suspense thriller whose flaws frequently loom so largethat, over time, they start to take on the character of virtues.

    Faye Dunaway as Laura Mars


  • Tommy Lee Jones as Det. John Neville

    Rene Auberjonois as Donald Phelps: Laura's Manager

    Brad Dourif as Tommy Ludlow: Laura's skeevy driver


  • Darlanne Fluegel as Lulu - a model

    Real-life 70s supermodel Lisa Taylor as Michele - a 70s supermodel

    Raul Julia as Michael Reisler: Laura's suspicious-acting ex-husband

    Eyes of Laura Mars - you can tell the film is hip because, like a rock band that wants to be taken seriously, itdispenses with the article, "The" at the start - is a romantic thriller about a hotshot New York fashion photographer(Dunaway) whose titular eyes she happens to share with a serial killer. Not literally, like a Manhattan co-op, butpsychically, at grievously inconvenient moments throughout her day, Laura Mars literally sees through the eyes of thekiller. Targeting her friends and colleagues, the killer implicates the controversially provocative photographer bycommitting murders in ways that duplicate (inspire? Hmmm...) Laura's own death-fixated, violently erotic fashionlayouts.


  • At its core, Eyes of Laura Mars may be just a another stylishly dressed-up pulp thriller, but BOY is it a pulp thrillerthat works!

    The Eyes of Dunaway & Auberjonois

    Movies built around a gimmick, even a clever one, can be problematic. Everything hinges on working the gimmickinto the film as quickly and as frequently as possible, often at the expense of a coherent plot. Eyes of LauraMars teeters on occasion with a screenplay committed to delivering the genre goods as honestly as possible (lots ofred herrings, dark rooms, shock cuts, and people popping into frame out of nowhere), but with its tin ear for dialog,luckily it has the good sense not to take itself too seriously.Faye Dunaway, in the first of many suitable-for-a-drag-queen roles that would soon derail her once-impressive filmcareer, is actually rather good here and is given solid support by a compelling cast of New York actors.

    Hunky Detective Tommy Lee Jones shows Dunaway the finer points of firearmswhile

    showing the audience a little open-shirt beefcake.

    However, the film's greatest asset is its setting. Not since Blow Up has the world of fashion photography been usedto such irresistible effect. Inspired by a real-life hot-button social issue of the late 70s: the emergence of violent,sadomasochistic imagery in fashion and advertising (specifically the works of Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin, &Rebecca Blake), Eyes of Laura Mars makes colorfully dramatic use of the mystique surrounding the fashion industry.All of which creates a credible backdrop for its implausible, "I have an ocular/psychic bond with a serial killer!"gimmick. Released three years before the debut of MTV, Eyes of Laura Mars can be credited or blamed with paving the wayfor the glut of 80s thrillers which endeavored to hide narrative shortcomings behind an overabundance of visualpanache. Many have tried, but few have been able to hit all the high notes that Eyes of Laura Mars does soeffortlessly. A stateside version of the Italian "Giallo" thriller, it is at times loopy, obvious, and heavy-handed, but there


  • are still enough surprises to go around and it is never for one second, boring. In fact, it's really a lot of lurid fun.

    "OK America, OK world... you are violent. You are pushing all this murder on us, sohere it comes right back at you! And we'll use murder to sell that you'll

    just get bored with murder. Right?"

    WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILMNot everything one loves about a film is actually up on the screen. Sometimes it's what we associate it with and whatmemories it evokes. Every time I watch this movie I think of the summer of 1978: the year I turned 21 and moved toLos Angeles on my own. One of my strongest first impressions of the city was the enormous Eyes of LauraMars billboard on the Sunset Strip.

    Not a photo of mine, found on the internet. But that's the billboard!

    It was the same iconic Scavullo portrait of Dunaway used in the poster, but the staring eyes were illuminated andflashed on and off 24/7. It could be seen from blocks away and I was just thunderstruck by it. Seriously, it was likesome 70's reimagining of The Great Gatsby with me as a bell-bottomed George Wilson mesmerized by the eyes of afemale Dr. T.J. Eckleburg staring down from an advertisement.


  • PERFORMANCESIt's not easy being a Faye Dunaway fan. When she's good she's peerless, but unless handled by a particularlywatchful director, she's prone to giving overly mannered performances (one recalls Jan Hook's hilariously spot-onDunaway impersonation on SCTV). Hot off of her Oscar win for Network and in the first role requiring her to trulycarry a film, Dunaway falls somewhere in between here.

    Laura Mars on falling in love: "I'm completely out of control!"Words that would come back to haunt Ms. Dunaway three years later on the

    release of Mommie Dearest .

    My absolute favorite performance in the film is given by Darlanne Fluegel, portraying a sweetly ditzy model of thesort I once thought exclusively indigenous to Los Angeles . Hers is a disarmingly smart and funny performance keyedperfectly to the semi-satiric tone the film adopts for the modeling sequences. She is terrific.


  • Darlanne Fluegel - Pretty in Pink

    THE STUFF OF FANTASYWere this thriller comprised solely of fashion shoot sequences and behind-the-scenes footage of Laura Mars at work(in some of the most flamboyantly impractical outfits ever), it would be enough.

    Casual Fridays for Laura Mars

    Each scene plays out like a little mini-film: kinetic, witty, and bubbling over with an unerringly precise sense of timeand place. Unlike laughable sequences in movies like Valley of the Dolls that try to make modeling look glamorousand desirable, Eyes of Laura Mars is not afraid to mine the absurdity.


  • The elaborate/outrageous photo shoot sequences that are the film's centerpieces pose provocative questions aboutviolent sexual imagery in advertising that Eyes of Laura Mars never satisfactorily address.

    THE STUFF OF DREAMSAs a time capsule vision of late 70s chic, Eyes of Laura Mars is perfection (although the once-daring photos at thecenter of the plot look almost quaint by today's standards), which only adds to my overall enjoyment of a film that, forall its faults, continues to fascinate and entertain me through repeated viewings. Still, given the relative kinkycleverness of the premise, I might wish that the film's p