Greatest Directors: Woody Allen; Part 8: Stardust Memories (1980)

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I seem to have completely forgotten about Manhattan somehow, so i’ll do Part 8 now then go back for it next time. For now we’ll look at black and white comedic drama Stardust Memories (1980), of course directed by Woody Allen. Something we immediately notice is Diane Keaton not being cast on this one given their great chemistry, and Allen’s understanding of her strengths and weaknesses as an actor. However, it makes sense considering she doesn’t have the sheer visceral, tragic, or psycho-sexual qualities like Charlotte Rampling, not that many actresses do. Stardust Memories is infamous for splitting Allen’s audience, some thinking it’s his best picture, others his worst. It very much feels like a turning point, an evolution in his style, the potent rejection of his earlier films and audience. On that note, let’s dive right in.

Bates surrounded by his adoring audience.

Bates surrounded by his adoring audience.

The narrative involves filmmaker Sandy Bates (Woody Allen) as he attends a film festival, days of viewing purely devoted to his work. Shortly after departing the narrative dissolves in terms of time and space, and inter-cuts heavily between many of his relationships, his time at the festival, and his negotiations with producers in order to keep the ending of his newest film and not have it altered. Ultimately Stardust Memories is a film about it’s themes, linked together by some thin story line structure as opposed to traditional storytelling. A lot of the cinema-based segments revolve around his audience, being tormented as the line recurs ‘I always preferred your earlier, funnier movies’ spurning his more artistic efforts. Meanwhile he is lost in thought regarding his relationships, unable to decide between the intellectual and mousy musician Daisy (Jessica Harper) or maternal French mother of two Isobel (Marie-Christine Barrault). Meanwhile he is constantly haunted by images of the extremely sexual, and psychotic Dorrie (Charlotte Rampling). Meanwhile the real audience is left to wade through, and decide what is part of his metadiagetic films, or part of the character’s life as everything gradually begins to dissolve.

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Stardust Memories is a very artistic, very self-indulgent, post-modern piece of cinema. On it’s critical reaction many saw the immediate likeliness to Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 (1962) as Fellini is often cited as a big inspiration to Allen. However it’s thought by many to be incredibly biographical. Both of the characters are filmmakers, and obviously there’s the link to Allen’s earlier ‘earlier, funnier’ films given the huge following Bananas (1971) and such had in comparison to his artistic fare like Interiors (1978). I think Stardust is a celebration of Allen’s cinematic talent, the talent he’s afraid to really bare in indulgence, afraid to pay homage and tribute to the directors that molded his own true style behind the slapstick and wit (such as Fellini and Bergman).  Following his films this far it could be said he’s afraid to stop being a comedian especially when his attempt with Interiors was fairly misunderstood. Meanwhile in the background we see this pondering of relationships, and different women. People liken this to Allen’s very vivid romantic life as well, given his multiple marriages, and focus on love and relationships in his films.

The oddly menacing last still of the film.

The oddly menacing last still of the film.

So regardless of Stardust Memories’s ambigious artistic style, it’s quite an entertaining film. It treats its self as a comedy film, but ultimately it’s not that funny, however I don’t really feel it’s meant to be. And in that, is part of the joke, with the pandering to audiences wanting Allen’s ‘funnier’ films with this subversion of what Allen finds funny in dire contrast. However that being said, I’d say Stardust Memories is mainly for film purists as it’s exploring the tropes and questioning Allen’s real directorial style both figuratively and literally and I can’t see many mainstream audiences interacting with that idea, or humoring it. Also out of context I think you’d miss a lot, I found a lot of intrigue in Stardust Memories due to it’s self-referential style with deep parody and reference to Allen’s career. As a side-note Charlotte Rampling as the lingering ex-girlfriend Dorrie was fantastic, close to stealing the spotlight with her sexuality and alluring nature, contrasted to her mysterious psychotic nature which seemingly interchange at will.

In summary: I think Stardust Memories marks the evolution of Allen’s style, or at least a change in moods in regards to the mainstream and it’s audience. It’s a comedy film that’s bogged down by serious thought, and pondering which is a much more relevant cause ultimately. While I don’t think it necessarily matters, I think the film bears a far too striking resemblance to Allen’s life and career for it to not be about him, or at least loosely based on his exploits. Stardust Memories is am ambitious film, but it achieves what it aims, and it’s certainly an in-depth look into Allen’s psyche. It’s probably my favourite film of his so far, edging just ahead of Annie Hall. Anyway, that’s it for this time. Follow/Like/Comment if you feel inclined, and follow me @Sams_Reel_Views on Twitter. 

Cheers! 

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