Cinemalphabet: E is for The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)
For a film that sounds absolutely ridiculous on paper, I have to say, in practice, it’s pretty damn near phenomenal. First, its production design is pure, ecstatic, disco-era New York real estate porn, the film itself as stylish and fabulous as Laura’s photographs. Then of course there are the hilariously contrasting acting styles of Faye Dunaway and Tommy Lee Jones. Dunaway is the high drama queen to Tommy Lee’s subtle, method vagabond, throwing herself into his arms wailing, shaking her head violently, while he holds her, emoting little more than a three-day-old corpse.
If you haven’t seen Eyes of Laura Mars – well, it’s a odd film. Definitely not for everyone. Basically, it’s about a high fashion photographer who takes chilling snaps, which later turn out to be premonitions. It’s kind of like Early Edition meets Mahogany, cut with a little Gia. There is lots of overacting, shiny clothing and tired high fashion tropes.
There are problematic aspects in the film – chiefly, its flaming misogynistic subject matter and the way in which graphic murders are sexualized and glamorized. But those have to more with the use of Helmut Newtons creepy – albeit stylistically interesting – photos and less to do with the film itself. My problem is this goes largely unexamined and therefore you have to work really hard – if you’re a person who critically examines these issues (I am such a person) – to redirect your rage and instead focus on the copious amounts of racer stripe blush and patent leather lips.
While touted as a “psychological suspense thriller” it’s hardly suspenseful. Even with a rudimentary understanding of the suspense thriller genre, it’s fairly easy to figure out the killer’s identity. Don’t worry, I’m not spoiling it. As a character study, well the film is totally soggy, what with all scenery chewing. That said, I absolutely agree with Almon’s assessment of the pluses of this film. It is gorgeously shot. It does feel like being trapped in a disco ball, but in a good way. Though this obviously is entirely dependent on your perspective on mainstream disco culture. And let’s not even talk about Tommy Lee Jones’ fabulously shaggy hair, which deserved its own Oscar in the supporting performance category. Never has such a messy hairdo single-handedly conveyed so much pathos.
In his 1978 review, film critic Roger Ebert said it best:
EYES OF LAURA MARS tries to say Serious Things about fashion photography, corruption in advertising, and the violence in our society. It does not succeed, but it tries. We would not, however, hold its Serious Things against it, if the movie also succeeded as a thriller. It doesn’t, unless your idea of being thrilled is having people leap out of the shadows and then turn out to be friends.
I think he was definitely being kind here. If “Eyes” was trying to shape the discourse in these areas its voice was definitely muffled by a disco ball gag or buried in a phenobarbital haze.
So this ain’t the go to film for if you’re looking for exceptional examples of any of the themes or stylistic choices the filmmakers were trying to explore. This is pure camp and fashion inspiration and when viewed as such – like say, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls – it works pretty well.
Wow, this was supposed to be about how this creepy movie influences my fashion choices. So let’s get to it.
My style is heavily influenced by the more “tasteful” elements of disco culture, with my use of tasteful being both ironic and relative, since much of the point was to be as outrageous as legally permitted. Specifically, I favor looks by disco taste makers rather than than the fashions that folks actually wore to do the hustle. Many of those choices were heavily influenced by illicit substances and while I’m very much of the harm reduction school of thought when it comes to substance use treatment and such, I am not nearly as tolerant when fashion enters the equation.
Key looks from the film I continue to crib
It’s interesting that a film with the word “eyes” in the title would be so judicious in its use of eye make up. Okay, maybe it’s just me.
• T-strap heels
• drapey black clothing
• nude lips
• layering different shades of blush, champagne and camel
• A-line worker bee skirts,
• Slouchy bags
• Tonal outfits
• statement necklaces
• stacked heel hooker boots
• updos with floral arrangements
I don’t know what it says about me that I draw fashion influence from a campy, cheesy movie made over thirty years ago. Maybe I’ll take a disco nap and reassess.