Some movies, well actually a lot movies, are flawed, but you like them anyway. There are reasons that even though you know the movie doesn’t work, it connects with you. When Eyes of Laura Mars came out in 1978 I was excited. On paper it had a lot going for it; a script by the then hot and upcoming John Carpenter, there was Faye Dunaway, still hot with recent hits like Chinatown, Network and Three Days of the Condor, just behind her, and most personally for myself, the main character was a photographer.
1978 was John Carpenter’s breakout year. He wrote and directed Halloween. He made the excellent made for TV movie, Someone’s Watching Me, and co-wrote, from his own story, the screenplay for Eyes of Laura Mars.
Once again Faye Dunaway is a photographer, she played one in Three Days of the Condor, only here she is a superstar fashion photographer of late 70’s chic, meaning her work is grounded in the sex and violence culture of the period. The film does attempt to provide a bit of social relevance with a nod to violence against women early in the film, but it is quickly dropped in favor of the more shock aspects of the film. Carpenter, after all, was never known for being socially relevant.
Laura Mars vision isn’t confined to what she sees thru her 35mm camera lens. You see, she has these visions, in soft focus, of murders as they are happening or are about to happen. All the victims are associates/friends of Laura’s. Detective John Neville (Tommy Lee Jones) is assigned to her case after coincidently showing up at her recent exhibit coinciding with the publication of her new book of photographic images.
There are the usual array of potential suspects, however the alert viewer should be able to figure out who the killer is early on. It becomes fairly obvious where this is all leading. What’s best about the film today, more than twenty five years after it was made, is its time period aspects. The New York of 1978 is filled with rows and rows of garbage cans. Trash seems to be all over the streets reflecting a city that was then in a steep decline. It has the same similar gritty feel that we know from Scorsese’s much superior look at 1970’s New York City in Taxi Driver. A coincidence, if nothing else, is how both of these films use Columbus Circle for important scenes. In this film, early on, Laura has an on location photo shoot that takes place at the famous landmark. In Taxi Driver, a big political rally is held where Travis Bickle makes a failed attempt at assassinating the candidate. It was at the Columbus Circle photo shoot when Laura has her first “vision” of a murder. Along with the grit of the city, the late 70’s feel is cemented by the disco soundtrack, the fashion and the hair styles, both men’s and women’s.
Unfortunately, the film is hampered by a script that has too many holes and is just too far out for the viewer to buy into. That said, Irvin Kershner’s (Star Wars: Episode V-The Empire Strikes Back, Never Say Never Again, The Hoodlum Priest) direction is stylish enough to keep you hoping the story will all come together…it doesn’t.
Along with Faye Dunaway and Tommy Lee Jones, there’s an interesting cast that includes Rene Auberjonis (M.A.S.H.), Brad Dourif (Ragtime), Raoul Julia (The Adams Family), Darlaanne Fluegel (Once Upon a Time in America) and if I am not mistaken an uncredited Jerry Stiller in a small role as a taxi driver.
The photographs of Laura’s that we see throughout the film were actually taken by Helmut Newton, known himself for his own provocative erotically charges photographs.