Stardust Memories (1980)

“We enjoy your films — particularly the early, funny ones.”

Synopsis:
While attending a retrospective of his films, a beloved movie director (Woody Allen) reflects upon his challenging relationship with a former girlfriend (Charlotte Rampling), reconnects with his current partner (Marie-Christine Barrault), and flirts with the pretty young girlfriend (Jessica Harper) of a film professor (John Rothman).

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Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that in making Stardust Memories, “Woody Allen takes Fellini’s autobiographical 8 1/2 and applies it, one assumes, to his own life”. He notes that the “picture is [a] daring change of pace for Allen and contains wit and insight into [the] life and thoughts of an Allen-like filmmaker”, but argues (somewhat cryptically) that it’s “not a success”, in part because “we don’t really like” Allen’s character, someone “whom we can believe is much like the real Allen”. He concludes his review by asserting that the film “should certainly be funnier”, and notes that “many” (including Peary himself??) “resent the way ‘Allen’s’ fans are depicted.” Indeed, Stardust Memories is a notoriously contentious film in Allen’s oeuvre, though I’ll admit I remain puzzled by this designation. It’s easier to understand critics’ (and audiences’) “resentment” over Allen’s drastic shift away from comedy with Interiors (1978) — but Stardust Memories is drolly amusing enough to classify as a darkly humorous comedy-of-life, even if it’s not as overtly designed for laughs as his “early, funny” pictures (to quote a character in the film itself).

After writing and helming 8-9 full-length films (including such certified classics as Annie Hall and Manhattan) — and thus revealing himself to be a cinematic auteur of the highest stature — Allen fully “deserved” to make a movie like this, one in which he explores the conflicted nature of his own phenomenal success. One can only imagine the nightmarish existence endured by celebrities of any kind, let alone those (like Allen) who appear to long for a semblance of privacy and normalcy in their everyday lives; in Stardust Memories, Allen is able to show us in satirical detail exactly what it’s like to be confronted on a daily basis by “everyone under the sun who needs a favor”, ranging from a look at one’s fledgling script, to endorsement of worthy causes, to simple yet incessant autograph requests. (And, to Allen’s character’s credit, he handles these requests remarkably graciously, if with an obvious level of underhanded dismissiveness.)

Meanwhile, the bulk of the narrative revolves around the typically tortured romantic existence of Allen’s alter-ego, Sandy Bates, who (much like Michael Caine’s adulterous accountant in Hannah and Her Sister) seems to secretly desire a troubled female companion who “needs” him, rather than a confident and mature mother-figure (the latter embodied here by Barrault, and in HAHS by Mia Farrow). Rampling, Barrault, and Harper are all fine in their respective roles, and Gordon Willis’s b&w cinematography superbly highlights Bates’s stylized existence (it’s difficult to miss the humorously outsized “portraits” of torture decking the apartment walls of this man who’s “obsessed with world suffering”). To that end, Peary rightfully points out the obvious connections between this film and Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels (1941) in its “conclusion that those who have comic gifts… should present comedy to the world… whereas others should tackle serious themes”.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Gordon Willis’s cinematography
  • Effectively stylized art direction and sets

Must See?
Yes, as one of Allen’s most personal and insightful films.

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One Response to “Stardust Memories (1980)”

  1. A definite must – and worthy of multiple viewings.

    This is how I know that, as ffs go, I could possibly be a minority within a minority: to me, ‘SM’ is just about perfect. I could almost always be in the mood to watch this film. I’m not exactly sure why – except that, like my all-time fave film, ‘Night of the Iguana’, it says quite a lot about the human condition. It almost doesn’t matter that its focus is on a disillusioned filmmaker. Whether or not it’s Allen’s version of ‘8 1/2’ is irrelevant to me. I I feel bombarded, energetically so, when I watch this film (and that seems to be part of the intent).

    This is one of my two favorite Allen films, the other being ‘Love and Death’. From the standpoint of his work as an actor, I like him so much in both films – to me, his performances in these two are separate from his other work. Again, I’m not quite sure why that is. But I find him particularly appealing in these two roles.

    What’s especially refreshing about ‘SM’ is that it dares to be dark and unflinching yet it is at the same time a very funny film. The mix seems seamless. And I’m not sure if average audiences appreciate the balancing act here. (Did this movie make a dime?) While it’s true that all of the extras – and a good number of the peripheral characters – are presented as strange, one can’t deny that the protagonist correctly recognizes that we do, indeed, live in a strange world. I don’t think any more is to be read into than that.

    The bizarre nature of existence comes out in some wonderful lines:

    “Would you sign my left breast?”; “Can I have your autograph? Could you just write ‘To Phyllis Weinstein – you unfaithful, lying bitch.’?” – autograph seekers

    “The mortality rate in this business is unbelievable.” – a studio exec

    “Hey, look, I’m a super-intelligent being. By Earth’s standards, I have an IQ of 1600. And *I* can’t even understand what you expected from that relationship with Dorrie.” – an alien

    And let’s not overlook such memorable juxtapositions as the following: with an intensely dramatic scene in the foreground, Allen soothes us way in the back with a group of nuns dancing to ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’. Adorable.

    I also find it satisfying that, like the protagonist, the film is jumbled up. We’re more or less centered in the present but we are made to jump around. It’s all very reflective. Which is appropriate.

    There is not another film remotely like ‘Stardust Memories’. To me, it’s a genuine ff treat.

    Fave line: “So tell me about yourself. Who are you? Give me a lot of personal information immediately.”

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