Stardust Memories (1980) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: PG for sexuality and mild language
Running Time: 91 min.
Cast: Woody Allen, Charlotte Rampling, Jessica Harper, Marie-Christine Barrault
Director: Woody Allen
Screenplay: Woody Allen
Review published January 3, 2004
Generally regarded as a lesser Woody Allen work, Stardust Memories is still a compelling look into the narcissistic mind of a comedic genius, now plagued by the constant need to put the light comedies that made him famous behind him and do more artistically significant work. Coming after the much more serious films, Manhattan and Interiors, Memories captures what's going on in Allen's mind after hearing the barrage of fans and handlers wish he would stop with the self-indulgent artsy dramas and return to the off-the-wall antics of his earlier movies. Perhaps the funniest aspect of this movie is that his response is mostly a middle finger to the critics that plague him, delivering his most pretentious and artistic film to this point in his career.
Allen continues his trend of pushing forth semi-autobiographical material, playing director Sandy Bates, a brilliant filmmaker who is going through a darker phase in his movies, and the public isn't as in tune to his latest work as they have been to his earlier, funnier films. The studio heads are down on him for delivering a morbid drama about death, reshooting scenes in order to make it upbeat. Bates is given an opportunity to attend a film festival in honor of his body of work, where he is constantly hounded by fans and opportunists all trying to get some attention and a foot in the door of show business. Bates tries to remain upbeat, but the intrusive nature of his celebrity status has him struggling to maintain a sense of normalcy in his private life, which is as much in a crossroads as his career.
For those who are familiar with Allen's prodigious career, Stardust Memories is a fascinating work of self-reflection, giving us a taste of what it's like to be the man in the fishbowl, looking at the people around him in contempt. Almost completely pretentious and somewhat insulting, Allen's nose-thumbing is still acutely hilarious, laughing at the people who laugh at everything he says, and also those who over-analyze his work as if it were dripping with meaning ("What do you think the Rolls Royce represented?", one man says after screening the film.
Like Manhattan, Allen shoots this film in lush black-and-white, which some have seen as an homage to Fellini's 8 1/2, which provided the inspiration for several scenes throughout. While the subject matter might be too dour and cynical for some of Woody's fans, many of his observations and intellectual wranglings have the air of truth behind them, even if it seems ungracious for Allen to bite the hand that feeds him. Allen constantly shifts between reality and imagination, fiction and fact, in a dizzying array of brain droppings that aren't completely cohesive, but still manages to impress through sheer imagination and ambitious drive.
Stardust Memories ranks among Woody's most underappreciated works, and is so self-referential, it should really only be seen by those who are familiar with Allen's previous films and the state of his career at the time the film was made. It's not so much a film made by a man who loves himself, as some have said, but rather, by a man who wonders why others love him so much, wanting to be with him, or wanting to be him, when all around he himself feels misery, despair, and completely out of touch with what he wants.
©2004 Vince Leo