Review: Eyes of Laura Mars

[Originally published in Movietone News 58-59, August 1978]

Give Jon Peters full credit, he’s honest with his audience. At the beginning of A Star Is Born a voice called out advising “all you assholes out there” that the show wasn’t about to get under way until everyone quieted down, and Jon’n’Barbra proceeded to treat their public accordingly for the rest of the film (not that a goodly portion of the public seemed to mind: “Gee, Barbra called me an asshole!—I have arrived!”). Peters’ credit on Eyes of Laura Mars is preceded by a spacey model’s muttering “Guh-ross!” Yes, my dear, Eyesof LauraMarsis pretty gross and, in deference to memories of the good films director Irvin Kershner once made, I’d prefer to lay most of the blame at Peters’ door.

Clearly we are not dealing with a movie here; this is a producer’s package, a market-researched gratification kit ripe for fast saturation-merchandising. “We need a classy careerist dame who takes fashion pictures—get Dunaway, she’s hot thanks to her NetworkOscar and she looks as if she fits the milieu. The pornography of violence is a very heavy media trip just now—get Helmut Newton to take the actual satin-and-bloodstain photos Laura Mars is supposed to have done. Looking for Mr. Goodbarwas full of mirror shots—my kid brother’s film prof says they have something to do with deranged psyches and like that—so we’ll have lots of those because, get this, have we got a derangement for you! This fashion photographer has this very kinky thing going where she’s plugged into the perception of this really weird killer, so that suddenly ZAP! she’s seeing through his eyes as he closes in on his next victim. Matter of fact, it’s been happening for some time, and that’s where her controversial it-turns-me-on-but-is-it-Art? photo ideas have been coming from. (She can start having these flashes while shooting,lots of automatic-wind screaming from the camera and fast-cut montages, they’ll love it at Sight and Sound.) She’s only just picked up on the connection because now the guy is selecting his victims from among the subjects in her new coffeetable book called—are you ready for this?—The Eyes of Laura Mars,and doing them in with an ice pick through the eyes. I tell you, Manny, it’s relevant, it’s now. And this is the beauty of it—you won’t be able to tell the movie from the ad art, which will make everybody happy because they’ll know they’ve bought exactly what they set out to buy….”

Actually, the time is overripe for someone to do a full-fledged article on the ways media-conscious scenarios and programmatic direction are compressing all the resonance out of the kinds of cinematic structures and strategies people like Lang and Hitchcock used to generate with apparent spontaneity. Goodbarwas a serious and honorable, if essentially wrongheaded, instance of this. Eyesrepresents the trashing of the concept—a garbage version of the theme in wrapping paper by Vera. One can see, or readily imagine, how somewhere along the line someone might have wanted the film to lock in on the principle of the artist’s tortured vision, connect it with the elements of Laura Mars’ psychic makeup that made her get involved with the kind of weirdos she’s been involved with (though violent/sexy ex-husband Raul Julia has apparently been all but cut from the film). There are even sly possibilities in the treatment of Laura’s freako chauffeur (Brad Dourif), whose militantly outré behavior would have tipped off a normal onlooker long before anyone gets to wonder about him here; in Mars’ monotonously decadent social and professional circles, he can flash warning signs constantly without anyone noticing. But this reading of his characterization finally gives the filmmakers credit for more sophisticated intentions than they deserve. Likewise, Kershner’s and cinematographer Victor Kemper’s occasional use of “inadvertent” shifts in color and light value (Laura alone in her loft gilded by early-morning sunlight anticipates the orange-filtered iris technique associated with the killer’s POV) and deliberate use of the same POV techniques to indicate the presence of surveilling cops and the murderer tend to debase the sorts of ambiguity-engendering tactics employed with less clinically programmatic purpose by previous filmmakers committed to a vision of life and not a queasy game with cinematic cattle prods.

Eyespiles up so many narrative cheats in its last couple of reels that I almost expect Raymond Durgnat to salute it as a gesture toward liberation from the tyranny of narrative. The killer’s motivation (forgive the archaic term) becomes a hilarious mishmash as one syndrome succeeds another with the speed of a shutter (though even this might have been an intriguing idea if Kershner and the actor in the guilty role could have handled the quick-change transitions from mode to mode within an integral mise-en-scène). Besides playing slimily fast and loose with the inherent ambiguity of the film medium, Eyes of Laura Mars earns our contempt for wasting the special qualities of Faye Dunaway, an actress who seems doomed to lurch into empty affect whenever she is handled with less than inspiration (as in Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown, The Three Musketeers and not much else—Network being perhaps the sole instance of her playing a part with mere solid professionalism). If Irvin Kershner’s hand is positively in evidence anywhere in this atrocity, it is probably in the marginal behavioral games played between René Auberjonois as Laura’s agent and Michael Tucker as Bert, a hanger-on to I’m-not-sure-what purpose.

RTJ

© 1978 Richard T. Jameson

EYES OF LAURA MARS
Direction: Irvin Kershner. Screenplay: John Carpenter and David Zelag Goodman, after a story by John Carpenter (and, uncredited, Jon Peters). Cinematography: Victor J. Kemper. Production design: Gene Callahan; art direction: Robert Gundlach. Editing: Michael Kahn. Costumes: Theoni V. Aldredge. Gallery photographs: Helmut Newton; other photographs: Rebecca Blake. Music: Artie Kane; love theme (“The Prisoner”): Karen Lawrence, John Desautels; sung by Barbra Streisand. Production: Jon Peters; executive: Jack H. Harris.
The players: Faye Dunaway, Tommy Lee Jones, Brad Dourif, René Auberjonois, Raul Julia, Lisa Taylor, Rose Gregorio.

A pdf of the original issue can be found here.