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STARDUST MEMORIES (director/writer: Woody Allen; cinematographer: Gordon Willis; editor: Susan E. Morse; music: Dick Hyman; cast: Woody Allen (Sandy Bates), Charlotte Rampling (Dorrie), Jessica Harper (Daisy), Marie-Christine Barrault (Isobel), Tony Roberts (Tony), Daniel Stern (Actor), Helen Hanft (Vivian Orkin); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Robert Greenhut; MGM Home Entertainment; 1980)
“Woody at his most autobiographical.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Woody Allen (“Manhattan”/”Broadway Danny Rose”/”Annie Hall”), who has courted the persona as the lovable schlemiel, turns nasty here shunning his usual more sympathetic pose as the vic and angrily strikes back at the hardships of fame, at critics, at the studio executives, at sycophants, at fan expectations, at besieging charities, at family members, and at real and imaginary foes. The result is Woody at his most autobiographical, self-pitying, angriest and mean-spirited, but hardly at his best. A film much influenced by Fellini’s 8 1/2 (1963), that was acidly funny in parts but overall reveals the filmmaker in a solipsistic and misanthropic light as he tells us to cool it and not take things too seriously. It postures to be an art film but only looks like art in a superficial way, as the filmmaker’s memories work best in fragments but not as a whole. The aim, according to Woody, was to show an artist on the verge of a mental breakdown who viewed the world through a distorted state of mind. But this was blown aside by too much whining, self-congratulations, pretense and nostalgia yearnings for the so-called good old days.

Famous filmmaker Sandy Bates (Woody Allen) suffers from a creative block, failed relationships, and an overactive neuroses. Sandy goes by rail to attend a weekend film seminar that includes a retrospective of his films at the Stardust Hotel in New Jersey and observes he’s on a train with losers while the passing train has winners; the one-note joke is that he is continually harassed by the public and now questions his genius as he no longer finds much personal satisfaction in his achievements, his fame or in his current female relationships. The studio suits pester him when he will make his next film and tell him that too much reality is not what the people want.

Sandy spends quality time kvetching about personal relationships: the termination of an affair with a neurotic actress Dorrie (Charlotte Rampling), the surprise appearance of his French mistress (Marie-Christine Barrault) at the festival with her two children claiming that she has just left her husband for him, and his own romantic attraction to the guest violinist (Jessica Harper) at the seminar.

These are some of the many memorable scenes in Stardust Memories: the appearance in a dream of an extraterrestrial who confesses he prefers the filmmaker’s earlier films and tells him ”You want to do a service for mankind?” then ”Tell funnier jokes”; a sequence recalling Sandy’s idea of a perfect spring day with his former lover, Dorrie, accompanied by Louis Armstrong’s rendition of “Stardust” on the soundtrack; and a paranoid dream in which a crazed autograph seeker assassinates Sandy.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”