Film Techniques Which Underline the Feminine Character

Šárka Lemonová Studie 2016

In my paper I will try to map the function of several film techniques which underline the feminine character when in danger, on the basis of an analysis of the American mystery film Eyes of Laura Mars of 1978 made by the director Irvin Kershner. This film represents the trend of the Hollywood cinema of the late seventies and early eighties, for which it was typical to put a woman facing a misogynic maniac in the sacrificial role. The introductory chapter is devoted to the historical and political background of the film trend Women-in-Danger, which provoked riots especially in the feminist movement, but the primary intention of my paper will consist in the analysis of film elements which accompany the emotional mood of the main protagonist of the film Eyes of Laura Mars; I will try to identify whether they are in conflict with the main character and her psyche or not and how they reflect various situations in which the heroine is. I will ask the question about how much they correspond with Laura’s nature and how the film sees the characters of the opposite sex.

1. Feminism versus violence against women
Feminism is based on the conviction that women suffer and have suffered from many inequities due to their gender. It is defined as a struggle for the recognition of women’s rights and for gender equality. Feminist theories began to spread and be presented in the sixties; activists came from various backgrounds and focused on the relation between gender and sexuality.[1]

1.1. Woman as a victim?
In the late seventies and early eighties the American public’s attention was captured by a great production trend, which was a thriller series about women facing a hateful maniac. Those films, which were made for women as well as for the male audience, triggered the strong opposition of feminists standing against female pornography and violence used against women. The first film which raised a wave of riots and overstep the mark in the opinion of feminists was the film titled Dress to Kill. Feminists were convinced that the contents of films of that type supported the real use of violence against women, mainly because of these aspects: a) the audience of these films consist mainly of men who sympathize with the murderer’s motives and identify with him, b) the film-makers should condemn violence, but they rather stand up for it and support it. The question is whether films influence the audience really so markedly, but then we would sink into sociology or psychology. In my opinion, there is of course the possibility that morally immature individuals may be inspired by contents with violence to commit similar acts in real life; on the other hand, I do not think that this assumption can be applied to a wider male population. The fact that most men watch violent films with sexual themes with a certain pleasure seems more natural than culpable to me. These issues of the war between film and culture in America of that time are dealt with in more detail in the study published by Charles Lyons in Philadelphia in 1977.[2]

1.2. Feminist wars
The so-called feminist sex wars are debates about many issues related to sex, which crystallized into two opposites in the late seventies: 1. sex-positive feminism (movement that began in the early 1980s that centres on the idea that sexual freedom is an essential component of women’s freedom) and 2. anti-porn feminism (movement that hold the view that pornography contributes to sexism, arguing that in pornographic performances the actresses are reduced to mere objects for sexual use and abuse by man). [3]

1.2.1. Anti-pornography feminists and their organizations
Anti-pornography feminists say that consumption of pornography is a cause of rape and other form of violence against women; pornography eroticizes the humiliation, domination and coercion of women.[4] They argue that the narrative is usually formed around men’s pleasure as the only goal of sexual activity, and that the women are shown in a subordinate role. [5]

Protests of the public of that time against pornography contributed to the support of a broad political spectrum. Anti-pornography radical feminists created the organizations Women Against Pornography, Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media, Feminists Fighting Pornography, and other similar groups providing education in this area, including presentations, performances, publishing a newsletter, and a tour of sex shops in cities like New York or San Francisco; the aim was to raise awareness about the contents of pornography and sexual subculture in sex shops. [6]

2. Female character in the film Eyes of Laura Mars
Analyzing certain film techniques in the film Eyes of Laura Mars, I would like to point out how a woman is depicted in such a film and how a film reflects various situations in which the woman is. I will try to identify whether these techniques are or are not in conflict with Laura, the main female character, and her mental state. I will also focus on the analysis of male protagonists, whose traits contrast very much with those of Laura.

2.1. Soundtrack
In the film art we perceive sound most often as an accompaniment to the true essence of cinema: moving pictures.[7] The key role of sound lies in the ability to focus our attention on a particular thing or character and in illustrating the psyche of the main
protagonists. [8]

The opening song Prisoner by Barbra Streisand, which is something like a leitmotif of the entire film, can suggest us how the main heroine Laura will be depicted. The highly emotional song presented by the self-confident and powerful voice of the singer perfectly underlines the personality of Laura, who is single-minded and self-sufficient, but is missing true love. The instrumental form of the song Prisoner occurs whenever Laura experiences romantic moments (we do not hear the full version of the song again until the end of the film, when it sounds the most impressively). In addition to romantic moments, Laura experiences a great fear across the film and this fear is always accompanied by an unpleasant tone or a whole group of high-frequency tones, inducing horror and tension. This terrifying sound is also characteristic of hallucinations during which Laura sees the murders of her loved ones which are just taking place. Even if the viewer turns off the picture and let only audio play, he could identify with no hesitation in what situation Laura is right now. It is important to realize that throughout the film the sound tinges the feelings of Laura only, not those of other characters; you could say that it fully corresponds with the main character and enhances thus her experience even more.

2.2. Sexually motivated shots
Of course, the film Eyes of Laura Mars shows a certain sexual motivation, but it does not relate right to the main character Laura. The centre of sexuality could be regarded models, who show violent scenes, especially Lulu and Michele. These models are mostly presented in their underwear to the viewer (even at the time of their murder). We can watch explicit shots especially when they are photographed for the second time, when a breast of one of the girls can be seen. Laura’s photographic works, which are motivated by sex and violence, give an equally decadent impression; but the author herself is depicted rather as a woman to whom feelings and love are fundamental (but this does not mean that she is not self-sufficient and needs a man for her existence by hook or crook. Even though some close-ups of the female body are presented to the viewer during the film, this is not Laura’s body in any of these cases and so sexuality is rather moved to the background.

2.3. Male contrast
The film Eyes of Laura Mars presents four main male characters to us. They are characterized by traits and characteristics which are opposite to those of Laura. Analysing gradually individual characters, we come to the conclusion that the film does not offer a single one predominantly positive male character:

  1. Donald Phelps – Laura’s assistant and representative dependent on her photographic production, relatively manipulative, crazy, and effeminate, is murdered after he changes into a women’s dress to be able to cover Laura (as all the murders were committed against women and Donald dies as a single one male character, we cannot deny him a certain effeminacy).

  2. Tommy Ludlow – Laura’s driver, likes girls, the narration presents him to us as the main suspect throughout the film (a knife bared at the police station, his confession to his criminal history, and John declares him a mad committing murders unconsciously by the end).

  3. Michael Reisler – Laura’s ex-husband, who had an affair with Laura’s murdered girlfriend Elaine, is a suspect, lacking independence, begging Laura for money, is constantly dependent on her, gets drunk, and has suicidal tendencies.

  4. John Neville – the lieutenant investigating the murders of Laura’s loved ones, seems to be very positive throughout the film, he pays court to Laura and treats her thoughtfully. Laura falls in love with him and experiences the happiest moments of her life. Unfortunately, she learns that John is a psychopath with
    a split personality, who commits all the murders and tries to put the blame on the driver Tommy. Laura kills him, but finds out that one of his parts really loved her.


In my mid-term paper I dealt at first with the historical and political background of the Hollywood film trend of the late seventies and early eighties, which was typical for putting a woman facing a mysogenic maniac in a sacrificial role. This was strongly opposed primarily by the feminist movement protesting against female pornography and violence used against women. I stated the reasons which made feminists to have this conviction and tried to look at them from the opposite angle. Doing this, I do not disprove their statements, but I also do not fully agree with them at the same time. In the next part of my paper, I tried to demonstrate the perception of the female character in the film Eyes of Laura Mars falling into the Women-in-Danger cinema. I analyzed certain film techniques, on the basis of which I revealed how the woman is figured there. I have come to the conclusion that specifically in this film a woman is seen as a self-dependent, self-sufficient, and successful being longing for love and emotional fulfilment, and also the contrasting characters of the male protagonists, acting mainly negative, help to it. The film Eyes of Laura Mars is dominated by emotions; sexual motivation is thus transferred to the background.

Despite all the disputes and disagreements, the trend of a woman in danger has taken root in American cinema and the main heroine facing dangerous situations is a film phenomenon which occurs frequently (The Omen, Alien, The Shining, The Silence of the Lambs, Dracula, and The Ring).

Použité obrázky pocházejí z databáze IMDb.

[1] FEMINISMUS. In: ELSHTAIN, Jean. [online]. [cit. 2014-11-04]. Available from:

[2] LYONS, Charles, The New Censors: Movies and the Culture Wars. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997. p. 53–80.

[3] DUGGAN, Lisa. Sex Wars: Sexual Dissent and Political Culture. Routledge, 1995. p. 6

[4] MORGAN, Robin. "Theory and Practice: Pornography and Rape". In: Going Too Far: The Personal Chronicle of a Feminist. Random House, 1977. p. 333

[5] MACKINNON, Catharine. "Francis Biddle's sister: pornography, civil rights, and speech". Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law. Harvard University Press, 1987. p. 163–197

[6] BROWNMILLER, Susan, In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution. N.Y.: Dial Press. 1999. p. 360

[7] BORDWELL, David a Kristin THOMPSON. Umění filmu: úvod do studia formy a stylu (Film Art. An Introduction). 1. ed. Translated by Petra Dominková, Jan Hanzlík, and Václav Kofroň. Prague: Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, 2011. p. 347.

[8] MONACO, James. Jak číst film: svět filmů, médií a multimédií : umění, technologie, jazyk, dějiny, teorie (How to read a film: The Art, Technology, Language, History, and Theory of Film and Media). 1. ed. Prague: Albatros, 2004. p. 210.

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