In 1972 Irvin Kershner directed Barbra Streisand in the film Up The Sandbox. The pair got along well enough that when Streisand’s then partner Jon Peters was putting together Eyes Of Laura Mars (1978) as a vehicle for Streisand, Kershner was hired too direct. However, Streisand pulled out of the production and the title role went to Faye Dunaway, though Streisand still contributed to the soundtrack of the film.
Eyes Of Laura Mars was the brainchild of co-screenwriter John Carpenter who came up with the movie prior to the monster success of his own film Halloween (1978). Carpenter’s script takes the Italian giallo genre and injects it into the high society milieu of New York City’s Studio 54 culture. Eyes Of Laura Mars, for this reason, is the most uniquely American iteration of the giallo film, tied to its moment in our cultural history.
The concept and plot of the film are the same and wholly overt. Eyes Of Laura Mars revisits the themes of the gaze explored in Rear Window (1954) though that complex of analysis and reflexivity is rearranged around the relationship between art and reality. Laura Mars’ photographs imitate or recreate the reality of violence just as Laura Mars’ gaze is not her own but rather an extension of that same violence. The idea being that the spectator becomes what they have seen and what they have seen has been shown to them by someone else.
Eyes Of Laura Mars reiterates these themes time and again in immaculately staged set pieces that range from glamorous photo shoots to decadent parties. But for all of the auto-critiquing in Eyes Of Laura Mars, the film never actually has very much to say regarding its high concept premise. Instead the filmmakers suggest these ideas and then become very bogged down in a plot that, with its excess of emphasis, is utterly predictable. The lessons of Antonioni’s “less is more” philosophy that make Blow-Up (1966) one of the great thrillers and exercises in reflexive discourse that the cinema has ever produced is entirely lost on the makers behind Eyes Of Laura Mars.
But that does not mean that Eyes Of Laura Mars fails as a thriller. On the contrary Eyes Of Laura Mars is effectively engaging even if it doesn’t deliver in the same thought provoking vein as a film by Hitchcock, De Palma, Antonioni or Fulci. The film offers viewers a unique snapshot of New York when disco was all the rage and Warhol was still hobnobbing with the jet set. The film also features some of the great character actors at their best and sporting iconic fashions of the moment. Eyes Of Laura Mars simply works best as a fetish object akin to the sexualized tableaus of Laura Mars’ photographs.