Tuesday, November 30, 2010

In Honor of Irvin: The Eyes of Laura Mars

So, giallo. Hey.
I know I’ve said some iffy things about you in the past, but maybe we just got off on the wrong red high heeled foot. Perhaps I’m simply a narrow-minded American who can’t handle dubbing or synth scoring. Maybe I can only savor my boobs, black gloves and blood when flavored by McDonald’s and Ruby Tuesdays.
And so, with a clock ticking on Instant Watch, I queued up Irvin “Empire Strikes Back” Kershner’s 1978 thriller, The Eyes of Laura Mars.

Several months ago. And then he, maker of one of the most universally loved films of all time, passed away at the age of 87. So even though I (spoiler alert!) didn't love this movie, I hereby dedicate this post (at least, the good stuff in it) to the late Mr. Kershner.

Quick Plot: 
Faye “Forever Mommie Dearest” Dunway plays Laura Mars, a controversial photographer known for staging macabre spreads to highlight high fashion (recall the Jaslene-winning Cycle of America's Next Top Model wherein the girls had to pose as brutally murdered corpses. I imagine most of you Gents are familiar with said shoot).

On the night of her huge NYC gallery opening, Laura learns that one of her models has been murdered in a similar style to a featured picture. Later, her agent suffers a similar fate as Laura sees it from own head simultaneously.
So what’s the deal, you might ask. Is Laura psychically connected to the killer? Is she breeding violence with her own aesthetics? And of course, who exactly is running around Manhattan, gouging out the eyeballs of lesbian models that bare eerie resemblances to Nomi Malone?

Here may I present the suspects, in spoiler free fashion (plus their astoundingly awesome ‘70s hair):
Limo driver Brad Dourif, who can always be counted on to do any and all of the following:

1-give the best performance in a film
2-burn holes through viewer’s heads with the power of his crazy eyes
3-lapse momentarily into a gleefully cuss-filled Chucky trill that inspires audience members to immediately queue up Child’s Play following whatever lesser movie he’s currently in
and 4-always, as a character, be responsible for something bad.
Hair: Curly, springable, sensational
Rene Auberjonois as Donald, Laura’s blah and unlikable assistant.

Hair: Ready to wear Farrah
Raul M. Bison Julia as Laura’s alcoholic ex.

Hair: Slick and on its way to Gomez Adams
Tommy Lee Jones as Lt. Neville, a policeman assigned to the case and of course, Laura’s bear-fur covered bed. He sports typical Texas charm and a farmer’s tan.

Hair: Flowy and fabulous, with sideburns to boot
Laura Mars herself

Hair: Chic...ish
One of the problems I’m learning I have with the giallo subgenre (and I know: Laura Mars is American and therefore not giallo, but c’mon: everything else is there) is the tease ‘n cheat game it tends to play with its audience. Sure, plenty of viewers will probably finger the killer within his or her first five minutes of screentime, but not for any other reason than “Well, could be that person.” The resolutions, at least from what I’ve seen, are shocking but arbitrary. This would be fine if the films didn’t seem to devote so much energy to dropping clues or red herrings, only to then in the last scene, substitute a usually ridiculous explanation to justify the previous 90 minutes.
And yes, The Eyes of Laura Mars is as guilty as Tenebrae of opening a jack-in-the-box of an answer that ignores lots of details and fails to come near addressing the basic mystery of the film. For all its fascination with point of view and fabricated violence, The Eyes of Laura Mars ultimately just wants to make you say “It was THAT person?”
Faye Dunway is not just a great actress; she’s also a genuinely interesting film presence that instantly makes Laura Mars a woman worth following. That the film never really does anything with her place as a female artist staging violence against women is its own shame, but Dunway remains in control throughout. And truly, her legs are spectacular

Stray High Point
I was raised to salute a film any time it features an AMC Pacer, so The Eyes of Laura Mars, cheers
Make Or Break
See: rant about mysterious and unspoiled ending
Lessons Learned
Unless you’re in a movie about a talking baby, it’s fairly safe to assume that most NYC cab drivers are jerks
Conducting gackground checks on personal staff is never a bad idea
In the late 1970s, everybody’s hair was awesome

Score: 6.75
The Eyes of Laura Mars is a well-constructed films aided immensely by fine performances and made a little more interesting by some serious ‘70s style (did I mention the Streisand sung song that opens and closes the credits?). I’m personally annoyed by its plotting, which is overly tangled and unresolved. It’s like a woman with a knotted mane who just gives up and gets a pixie cut. Not. Fair. But hey, it has plenty to hold your attention and ponder some time later. Just don’t expect the film to give you any real closure.


  1. When it comes to gialli, the thing I look for over anything else is style, and Eyes of Laura Mars oozes with it as you noted. For my money, Irvin beat many of the Italians at their own game here (and the impressive cast helps), but it does have exactly the kind of ending I know all too well you would hate.

    Now I'm biased a bit as I sit here looking at Faye on the poster on the wall across from me, but I am glad you thought it was a generally ok film.

  2. Great stuff!

    It looks as though Dunaway borrowed Annette O'Toole's hair.

    I am surprised that no one has produced a 21st Century giallo with American's Next Top Model as a backdrop.

  3. SO happy to read your thoughts on this film. I think you know that I ADORE it and it made me nearly purchase a sweater cape. For realsies. It affected me that deeply.
    I was genuinely shocked by the ending (even though I did suggest the possibility) and found myself shouting at the screen.
    I loved the fashion, the tension, Faye, the shoots, the misdirection, motherfucking Brad Dourif (at his sexiest, IMHO), Frankenstein's Monster looking Tommy Lee... ALL OF IT!
    Come on, Em, let's get sweater capes and pay Dourif a visit ;-)

  4. I'd love to get my hands on the original Carpenter script!