There’s the touch of the autobiographical in many of Woody Allen’s films but probably none more so than in Stardust Memories, a philosophical comedy that veers in and out of the surreal but stays rooted in reality long enough to tell an only partially satisfying story of a filmmaker at a crossroads of his life and his art.
The Production: 3.5/5
There’s the touch of the autobiographical in many of Woody Allen’s films but probably none more so than in Stardust Memories, a philosophical comedy that veers in and out of the surreal but stays rooted in reality long enough to tell an only partially satisfying story of a filmmaker at a crossroads of his life and his art. There are still some snappy lines, some hilarious physical comedy, and some astute commentary on the vagaries of celebrity and the ludicrousness of celebrity worship, but the sourness underneath the fun constantly threatens to spoil the good time, and by the end, it’s disappointing that all that angst hasn’t really amounted to all that much.
Beleaguered filmmaker Sandy Bates (Woody Allen) is finding life unpredictable and unmanageable on all fronts: his latest film is under attack by the studio heads who don’t like its symbolism and its seriousness, his best friend has just died, he has tax problems, his previous girl friend Dorrie (Charlotte Rampling) is a manic-depressive undergoing treatment, and his current girl friend Isobel (Marie-Christine Barrault) has left her husband and is considering marriage to Sandy. On a weekend Film Culture retrospective of his films in upper state New York, Sandy reflects on his sad relationship with Dorrie while being hassled by mobs of adoring fans who want everything from autographs to sexual favors from him. While Isobel is there visiting him, Sandy also becomes infatuated with Philharmonic violinist Daisy (Jessica Harper) who is attending the festival with her boy friend Jack (John Rothman).
Is Woody Allen’s screenplay for Stardust Memories filled with self-pity, self-indulgence, both, or neither? It’s certainly been classified as that by various critics of Allen’s films as they began to grow more sophisticated with attention to loftier themes and less interested in pure comic absurdism (and the end of this film where all of the performers file out of the auditorium commenting on their work in the movie we’ve just watched is indeed self-indulgent despite a couple of good jokes). Just as Sandy Bates’ memories are fragmented throughout the movie, so, too, are the film’s pleasures: piecemeal rather than sustained throughout. Sandy’s memories of himself as a little boy (with Robert Munk as a delightful young Sandy) are always enjoyable and much more ingratiating than the sad, increasingly unpleasant love affair with the mentally depressed Dorrie. (The trajectory of their relationship can also be seen on the changing wall murals in Sandy’s apartment which veer from Marx Bros. hilarity to Vietnam horrors.) Director Allen deftly mixes reality with the surreal (a gorilla snatches away a particularly irritating fan; Allen ponders the meaning of life with space aliens), lifting ideas and images blatantly from Federico Fellini, and yet he’s hip enough to also satirize himself as his character complains about the ridiculousness of fawning over a celebrity all weekend until he tries to use his celebrity status to get out of trouble with the law for possessing an unregistered gun. The celebrity film weekend idea was based on critic Judith Crist’s Tarrytown, N.Y. movie festivals (she’s actually listed in the performer credits for the movie, but I never spotted her), but if they were this overtly adulatory and audacious with unsupervised crowds of fans, it’s surprising that she ever managed to lure any big shots up there to appear. Nevertheless, Allen once again works in black and white with great alacrity (kudos to cinematographer Gordon Willis), the sight of soaring air balloons a simply breathtaking image and the over reliance on close-ups, often of unattractive people with their faces shoved up into the camera lens, does occasionally pay dividends though it wears out its welcome.
Directing himself as Sandy, Woody Allen seems just a bit less sure of his dialogue in several scenes, circling around what he wants to say before nailing it, but he’s otherwise cast to type (obviously since Sandy=Woody). Charlotte Rampling has the best of the women’s roles as the tortured Dorrie, sliding from a vivacious bit actress to the uncertain, unfettered victim of self-loathing and prescription addiction which tears the couple apart. Marie-Christine Barrault does what she can with Isobel, but the role seems underwritten and not quite developed enough for us to buy the ending Allen has fashioned for the two of them. Helen Hanft is very good as the film critic Vivian Orkin who organizes the weekend film festival, and Anne De Salvo as Sandy’s sister gets a fun scene or two as well. Jessica Harper is definitely the least of the three love interests for Sandy in the movie. Tony Roberts, Daniel Stern, and Laraine Newman also make brief appearances in the movie to reasonably good effect.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully rendered in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. This is one of the better MGM transfers of a Woody Allen project, the grayscale solidly covering the gamut of black to white (though black levels aren’t as inky black as they might have been). Sharpness is outstanding revealing great facial features with all of the extreme close-ups used in the movie. Contrast has been consistently maintained, and the transfer is very clean and almost completely artifact free. The movie has been divided into 24 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is just as it was in theaters: mono with very little high or low end. The use of vintage recordings for the background score is crisp enough in the audio transfer to reveal the crackle and pops in the original records, but the dialogue is solidly recorded and represented here with no age-related problems other that what was built into the source materials used.
Special Features: 2.5/5
Isolated Score Track: presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono.
Theatrical Trailer (2:46, HD)
MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer (2:06, HD)
Six-Page Booklet: contains a few black and white stills, poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s incisive essay on the movie.
As a critical evaluation on himself, his public, and his critics, Stardust Memories has few equals. It’s not always an uplifting experience, and there is some pretention mixed with the mirth and mayhem, but as a film from his most creative period of moviemaking, it warrants attention and actually improves with frequent revisits. There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested in purchasing it should go to either www.twilighttimemovies.com or www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.