Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) Blu Ray (Indicator) starring Faye Dunaway
The eyes have it
Faye Dunaway plays Laura Mars, a New York fashion photographer who specialises in getting her subjects to pose in a variety of perverse and violent images. One night she has a dream where she imagines tearing a photo out of one of her own glossy portfolios and then murdering the model who posed for it.
The following day, while she attends a show of some of her work she bumps into a mysterious man (played by Tommy Lee Jones) who criticises her work for its lurid depictions of violence. She quickly brushes him off. However, shortly afterwards, her minder Donald Phelps (Rene Auberjonois) reveals that the model she imagined being killed in the dream has, in fact, just been murdered in real life.
Sometime later on, while heading towards a meeting with her colleague Elaine (Rose Gregorio) she has a vision of the latter being stalked and ultimately stabbed through the eye. When she arrives at her tenement she discovers that the police are already at the scene and that Elaine is indeed lying lifeless in the stairwell. In her panicked state, she confides her incredible story to the detective on the scene (played by Frank Adonis). Needless to say, he takes her in for questioning.
While she is down at the station she is surprised to find herself being interrogated by the same mysterious man whom she met at the show earlier. He introduces himself as Lieutenant John Neville, who soon reveals that the interest he has taken in her work is based on the fact that the faked murders depicted within bear an uncanny resemblance to a series of genuine homicides which have taken place over the years. As the bodies pile up, Laura and John attempt to find out who exactly is carrying them out.
Watch a trailer:
An American giallo
Eyes of Laura Mars has (pun intended) truly-eye opening credits. The original script was written by John Carpenter (albeit it was extensively re-written by David Zelag Goodman prior to filming). It was directed by Irvin Kershner, a man best known for helming the best Star Wars film, The Empire Strikes Back, two years later. It stars Faye Dunaway who was previously nominated for three Best Actress Oscars (she won for Network, the film she appeared in immediately prior to this one). It also features some talented then up-and-coming actors including Tommy Lee Jones, Brad Dourif, Raul Julia and Darlanne Fluegel. Barbara Streisand also wrote the main theme song and was originally earmarked for the lead role by her then-boyfriend - producer Jon Peters. However, in the end, she declined as she didn’t like the nature of the material.
A glossy American take on the Italian giallo genre, Eyes of Laura Mars certainly had a concept ripe with potential to work with. Not only is there the wonderful notion of being able to view murders telepathically - but there are also interesting questions thrown up by the whole milieu of violent art; is it imitating the violence found in life or vice versa? Sadly, Kershner only grapples fleetingly with either idea and largely settles for a pedestrian, talk-heavy mystery.
A standard detective flick with added Vaseline
We get plenty of TV detective serial-style investigations and two or three obvious “red herring” characters who are fingered so blatantly that we just know that we can strike them off the suspects list. There’s the odd stylish moment of shooting and editing here and there (mostly based on the elaborate and overblown fashion shoots) but such scenes never really go anywhere. There are also a number of Halloween-style POV shots which are spoilt by someone’s (either director or cameraman’s) insistence on smearing the lens with a thick layer of Vaseline. The ending is also rather silly when you try to think about it.
The acting is admittedly fairly decent; Faye Dunaway is a little overwrought at times but she largely handles her role as a woman placed into an alarming conundrum very convincingly. Tommy Lee Jones, as always, plays that slightly off-kilter variant on the manly-man persona down to a tee. Rene Auberjonois’ performance as a highly strung camp (presumably gay) fashion industry figure comes across as a bit too broadly stereotypical nowadays. Mind you, this sort of portrayal was pretty standard during the 1970s.
Eyes of Laura Mars is, very much, a “what if?” movie - as in “what if someone else had directed it?” If John Carpenter had the chance to take full creative control we might have had a classic on our hands. Failing that, if Dario Argento or Brian De Palma had been bestowed with the opportunity to grace it with their free-flowing stylistic delirium we could have had something truly wonderful in a bonkers sort of way. As it is, it’s no wonder that it has become largely forgotten over the years.
Runtime: 104 mins
Dir: Irvin Kershner
Script: John Carpenter, David Zelag Goodman, Julian Barry (uncredited)
Starring: Faye Dunaway, Tommy Lee Jones, Brad Dourif, Rene Auberjonois, Raul Julia, Frank Adonis, Lisa Taylor, Darlanne Fluegel, Rose Gregorio
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
Detail is strong (outside of the Vaseline-vision shots, which were always going to be problematic) but the colour grading tends to veer too far into a brown/yellow hue. The colour actually looks better on the clips of the film shown in the vintage making-of documentary Visions which is included here as an extra. The sound restoration, however, is excellent. Those disco songs on the soundtrack sound stunning here.
The essay Disco Giallo by Rebecca Nicole Williams looks at the kaleidoscope of disparate creative influences from screenwriter John Carpenter, director Irvin Kershner and producer Jon Peters. It is particularly interesting when she notes that Carpenter’s script went through several rewrites prior to the final version by David Zelag Goodman. She also looks at the state of New York at the time - a city blighted by bankruptcy, a spiralling crime rate, a mass blackout and widespread panic in the wake of a serial killer named David Berkowitz. Finally, examines the film’s box office underperformance and subsequent critical evaluations.
‘Eyes’ Has It is a 1978 piece on the making of the film which originally appeared in Playboy magazine, which focuses mainly on producer and former hairdresser Jon Peters. During one featured interview snippet he states: “We showed the movie to eight or nine psychiatrists and psychologists in LA and they were blown away.” Hmmmmm….
The last article is Indicator’s usual look at the film’s contemporary critical responses.
Audio Commentary with director Irvin Kershner
The director talks us through the scenes but unfortunately tends to spell out what is pretty obvious from watching the film. More interestingly, he discusses why he had the original John Carpenter script rewritten by David Zelag Goodman with some uncredited extra work by Julian Barry. He explains that was just a straight thriller and he wanted to make it more relevant to his own experiences of New York during the time period. He aimed at making a commentary on how the images of women in modelling shoots commit violence against real-life women by portraying them in a dishonest way. The actresses playing the models seen in the film - including Lisa Taylor and Darlanne Fluegel - were genuine professional models at the time.
The Eyes Have It: An Appreciation by Critic Kat Ellinger
A superb video essay putting Eyes of Laura Mars in context of the Italian giallo cycle that came before it as well as the slasher craze which was born in the same year by Halloween, written and directed by the same screenwriter, John Carpenter. She also makes some interesting comments about how the main female protagonist has to adapt the male gaze for her photoshoots - and how this is reflected by her being forced to take the viewpoint of a male serial killer murdering women.
Visions: Original Making Of Documentary
A short and fairly shallow contemporary behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film. Of some curiosity, there are clips of the POV murder visions without that annoying Vaseline-like filter applied to them, thus leading me to the conclusion that the effect was added in post-production.
Eyes on Laura Mars
The producer of the Blu Ray talks about the differences between the John Carpenter original script and the filmed version.
A trailer, trailer commentary and image gallery round out the extras.
As you can tell from the review I’m not much of a fan of the film. However, the extras - as per usual for an Indicator release - do deserve credit.