In August of ’78 Faye Dunaway made a 70’s thriller you could call stylish, sexy, and even supernatural. One that features fashion and murder set to the back drop of old school New York City. It’s mostly forgotten, but actually ahead of its time in ways.
Eyes of Laura Mars introduces us to gorgeous, successful fashion photographer Laura Mars. She photographs graphic and controversial images that resemble a glossy, high end magazine spread found in Vogue or Bazaar.
Ever since discovering a ratty VHS of the movie at the west 26th street Chelsea NYC flea market (now a condominium), I’ve been obsessed. The cover was dark except for a face and two piercing, centered eyes and I couldn’t wait to get home and watch it.
Once I did, I was entranced. The film opens to the piercing sounds of Barbara Streisand’s lesser known but powerful, Prisoner. It drew me in instantly evoking feelings of mystery and stirring up my excitement. At fifteen I was already an old movie buff, lover of mysteries and most of all, fashion.
We first meet Mars on the night of her big photography show’s unveiling. A display of glitz and glamour that felt supremely seventies and intrigued me to no end. Her fashion world is uprooted when someone starts killing people around her. She begins having premonitions of the murders through the eyes of the actual killer, though she can’t see their identity.
The premise itself is a bit odd. Yet, even now all these years later I still find myself totally enthralled in this movie.
I think it’s just those main themes, fashion, the city, murder, that I love. Especially the photo shoot scenes. A mixture of imagery so gloriously old school it makes me wish I was in it.
In one part, Mars works on an epic shoot in a prehistoric Columbus Circle (pre Time Warner building). As she photographs models wearing only fur coats and ripping each other’s hair out, a car literally burns in the background while music pumps loudly.
Laura’s intent is to get certain feelings from her audience, but she’s also creating a reaction from the film’s viewers too. Her photography is considered shocking, illicit, and maybe even criminally suggestive. Typically, a movie is either ahead of its time, or as were so prone to notice nowadays, terribly outdated. With this scale, it’s hard to say where Eyes of Laura Mars ranks. Though we’ve progressed as a world, we’re also more uptight. And images on television, and online are more suggestive than ever.
The other star of the film, besides Dunaway, and Tommy Lee Jones (who plays the cop investigating the murders) is simply, the style.
Laura’s look throughout is reminiscent of the time, but since fashion is cyclical, much of it would be still be fabulously applicable today. And her style in the film has always stood out to me.
From rocking palazzo pants with slits during a Columbus Circle photo shoot, to a tan head wrap I’ve always coveted. She looked fashionable and confident. Something I assumed all women looked like as grown ups. Plus, she was powerful and successful. In rewatching the film recently, I can see how much of her style still works today. From wide leg pants I’ve seen in magazines, to a navy, and tartan wrap that screams city chic.
The other standout is a vintage city, and the look of an old film that feels ahead of its time. It’s meaning, implying some sort of meta message, asking if life imitate art or the other way around. Laura’s images inspire creativity, and sensuality. But they also incite anger and violence. This feels close to a lot of what goes on in our society today. And the way in which we absorb the images we see every day.
In the end, a campy 70’s thriller essential predicted the ability to see things as they’re happening in real time, like say a Facebook live post. Eventually, though, Laura must confront her ability, and a real killer. That’s where the movie goes back to being just a fictional piece of work. Yet, rewatching it again for the 41st birthday, it feels oddly more timely than ever.