Eyes of Laura Mars

Posted in '70s, Hotties, The Reviews by - November 06, 2013
Eyes of Laura Mars

One of the best clips I’ve seen online ever (no lie!) is a minute and a half long, and features Faye Dunaway sitting in a dimly lit room, peeling and eating a hard boiled egg while a melancholy flute plays. The above 70s ad for Japanese chain stores Parco, styled and created by Kazumi Kurigami and the late costume designer Eiko Ishioka, absolutely makes no bones about it: Faye Dunaway is so stunning, you’ll watch her do just about anything and you’ll love it and then you’ll go shop at Parco in a trance. (And maybe, just maybe, I’m a little biased because I love hard boiled eggs. Like, a lot. There, now we’ve really gotten to know each other.)

The ad has a point, though, because Dunaway is anything but forgettable. She was a pouty ingenue when she was younger, setting hearts aflutter in Bonnie and Clyde and The Thomas Crowne Affair, but my favorite Dunaway moments are from her movies from late 70s – early 80s. Some of that softness is gone and replaced by confidence that can only come from experience; she’s all angles and stares, and her performances can go from subdued to unsettling in moments.

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God, she’s beautiful

Between her turn in Chinatown and her oft quoted role as Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest, Dunaway starred in one of my favorite 70s suspense thrillers, Eyes of Laura Mars. There are no grizzly horrors in this movie, but plenty of tension and red herrings, as well as pretty amazing 70’s fashion and a bitchin’ soundtrack of sort of glam-rock-disco-y tunes. It’s also a story about love, about women trying to make it in the world, and about how violence in society and in our lives affects us in indelible ways. (Heads up: this post contains boobs.)

And the award for Best Supporting Role goes to: those gams.

Dunaway plays the titular Ms. Mars, a fashion photographer whose risque photo spreads are inspired by the visions of violence she seems to be channeling, somehow; they’re a little bit Gucci, a little bit CSI. A fiercely talented woman trying to make it in a male dominated industry, Laura is a mixture of rigid dedication and suppressed vulnerability.

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Just a typical day at work for Laura and her crew

Recently divorced, completely focused on her work and surrounded by both adoring fans and by critics denouncing her work, Laura’s body language and eyes telegraph that she’d really like to connect with someone who could really understand her, all of her. From the outside, she has it all: a thriving career, an amazing apartment and glamorous social circle, but she is haunted by the visions she sees of murder and mayhem, and it seems that the only way she can reconcile it is through her photography.

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So alone, so fractured, so chic

The movie opens with close up of Faye Dunaway’s eyes to the opening chords of Barbra Streisand singing “Prisoner“, a pretty epic ballad that was written for the film by Karen Lawrence. (Interesting trivia: the role of Laura Mars was meant for Babs herself, but supposedly she found the story too creepy. Personally, I think Dunaway is the better pick, because she makes Laura come off a little… unbalanced, and it works for her character.) It all kind of sets the tone for the sense of loneliness and feeling of restlessness that seems to surround not just Laura Mars but practically every person in the movie.

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Everybody’s a critic

Laura’s photos catch the attention of detective John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones), all business with his bushy brows and turtlenecks. When they first meet at one of her gallery gala events, Neville doesn’t realize he’s talking to the artist herself when he dismisses her art as trash. “I’d be interested to find out what kind of frustrated voyeur type this chick really is,” he quips to Laura. (Nice.) Their paths cross again when tragedy strikes right in the heart of Laura’s professional and social circle, as two of her friends become victims of violent ice-pick-through-the-eye murders; murders that Laura is able to see somehow as they are happening, even as she’s across town or working in her darkroom.

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This also happens if you have a really itchy contact lens

At the police station, it’s all a game of redtape, as Laura’s entire crew is questioned and made to sit around anxiously. Suddenly, anyone is a suspect: Laura herself, her closest friend and manager Donald (Rene Auberjonois), Laura’s troubled but devoted driver (Brad Dourif), and even her useless Lothario ex-husband, played briefly but fantastically by Raul Julia.

Introducing… eybrows!

Laura tries to explain why she does the sort of work she does:

“What I’m trying to do is give an account of the times in which I’m living. I’ve seen all kinds of murder. Physical, yes. But moral, spiritual, emotional murder! I can’t stop it, but I can show it. I can make people look at it.”

It’s a passionate appeal to understanding, but it also seems like she doesn’t 100% believe it herself, almost as if it’s a compulsion for her to document the ghastly visions she has. That’s one of the themes of the movie, I guess, the “spiritual” murder that Laura references. It’s ironic that she tries to document this, but she’s also someone who, as one critic says, creates art that’s degrading to women. In some ways, with her graphic work she’s an an accomplice to murder, so to speak. The movie handles it all with a bit of a heavy hand, but not so much that it is shlocky.

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The original and the homage

Laura is startled and can’t quite understand what any of it means, when Neville shows her side-by-side comparisons of her glamorous photo shoots and the crime scene photos from his files. The photos seem to really mirror each other in a lot of ways and that’s something that caught Neville’s eye and put Laura on his radar a while back.

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Laura’s glorious photo studio

Laura seems to cherish moments alone, catching a few quiet minutes before a major photo shoot, as the sun glows over the Hudson River. The thing that’s kind of important about Laura’s character is that she’s constantly on the verge of snapping, and it’s hard to say if it’s because of all the visions she’s had the past couple of years, or if she’s just overworked and really struggling in her life in general. I know that might not have been the intention for the film, but I appreciated that aspect, a portrayal of a woman trying to keep from falling apart when faced with demands of her career, failing relationships, sense of alienation and being misunderstood. There’s also the fact that while her talents are respected, even some of the most trusted men in her life all fret and fuss over her, or talk over her. In one scene, Laura is sitting in the back of her car with Donald, who is having a loud argument with Tommy the driver. It’s kind of a frustrating scene, because she keeps trying to get them to chill out and let her have some peace, and they just keep trying to outdo each other with their argument. You could see that in that moment, she was that close to pulling an ice pick out herself and stabbing them. I would have. (Laura probably wouldn’t. For someone who creates such startling photos, she’s actually quite uncomfortable with tools of violence themselves, as can be seen in the photo shoot clip below.)

The movie has a few recurring references and motifs, particularly involving reflections, fragmented sense of identity, and eyes. Especially eyes. Laura is obsessed with the details of how her models are styled and often gives very precise instructions about their eye makeup. Her entire career is that of using a mechanical eye to stare at people and capture their images so that others can stare at them. The killer stabs people in the eyes. Laura sees through the killer’s eyes. People have eyes. But you know, it all works. As I said, a bit heavy handed, but really stylish and effective.

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Laura tries to explain how the murder-cam in her mind works. Later, they make out.

Naturally, Neville and Laura fall in love, and naturally, things don’t end well for anyone involved. I don’t know if Irvin Kershner (director) and John Carpenter (lead script writer) were trying to make some sort of comment about a woman not being able to have it all. “I’m Laura Mars,” she says that at the end of the film after a particularly traumatic turn of events. It’s hard to say if she says this because she finally comes to accept herself, or if she’s saying that to keep from unraveling. Either way, setting aside some of the cheesiness of the film and all the symbolism we get bludgeoned with, I think even without a glamorous fashion photography career and murders, there’s something we can relate to in poor Laura Mars.

PS: Sonja just filled me in on some awesome trivia I didn’t realize: all the photos in the movie taken by Laura Mars were done by famous photographer Helmut Newton!

Tanya
This post was written by
Throwing popcorn at movie theater texters since ALWAYS.

3 Comments on "Eyes of Laura Mars"

  • Kenneth
    Kenneth

    yep, i’m smitten. robert de niro contributed an evil edge to the act of eating a hard boiled egg, in Angel Heart… but this peformance… wow. why didn’t the US Egg industry hire her for their commercials when they were trying to promote eggs as an everyday staple to our diets? hell, i’ll eat anything if it could make me look this sexy.

  • “The Eyes of Lara Mars” is in my top 5 favorite movies of all time, along with “Inside Daisy Clover” and “Repulsion”.

    Love your blog!

    JPG

    • Tanya
      Tanya

      Ooh I don’t know “Inside Daisy Clover!” On the list it goes 🙂

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