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Stardust Memories

Released: 1980

Genre: Comedy

Runtime: 1 hr 28 min

MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Woody Allen

Starring: Woody Allen, Charlotte Rampling

A renowned filmmaker reflects on his life. Written and directed by Woody Allen.

Fans, Dreams and Art: Woody Allen's "Stardust Memories".

Review by: MiamiMovieCritic

Added: 7 years ago

Of all the Woody Allen movies there are to see - he releases about a film a year - the one with the coolest rep is probably 1980's Stardust Memories. Actress Christina Ricci and baroque pop artist Annie Clark are both fans. If you want to understand why Allen is so highly regarded not just as a comedian but as an artist, see this one.

Allen plays a movie director named Sandy Bates, who's attending a retrospective of his work at the Stardust Hotel. The film weaves dreams and reality, and it's often unclear whether we're watching a scene from Sandy's life or a scene from one of his movies. The most distinctive image in the film, repeated throughout, is a subjective shot showing Sandy's fans crowding the camera, each wanting a piece of him, some under the impression he has the power to cure cancer or something. They are grotesque displays of humanity, and, unfairly or not, they were interpreted as revealing Allen's true feelings for his fans.

This is probably Allen's darkest work, combining satire, self-deprecating humor and misanthropy into a hilarious Molotov cocktail. It followed the release of Annie Hall, Interiors and Manhattan, films that represented an unapologetic break from the screwball comedies of his early days. The filmmaker addresses this shift directly, when one of Sandy's fans says how much she enjoys his films, "especially the early funny ones."

The movie contains some of Allen's most quotable dialogue. ("To you, I'm an atheist. To God, I'm the loyal opposition.") It makes you laugh and squirm at the same time. When Sandy visits his sister, we're introduced to a battered woman named Irene, who recounts how she was robbed and then raped over and over. Irene: "I didn't resist." Sandy: "Oh, I'm sure. Knowing you, Irene!"

The opening is one of Allen's greatest set pieces. He's trapped on a train where all the passengers are sick-looking, depressed and ugly. When he looks out the window, he can see another train where all the passengers are happy, rambunctious and beautiful (one of them is a very young Sharon Stone, no less). It's an existential nightmare worthy of Kafka, and I'm well aware that, in this context, Allen would sneer at such a comparison. In another great scene, "Sydney Finkelstein's hostility has escaped." A search party finds bodies strewn on the ground, and then we see it: Sydney's hostility, looking like a man in a bear suit. Later, in an unforgettable shot, the hostility bear reappears suddenly and mauls one of Sandy's fans.

Stardust Memories is a disturbing, even despairing reverie, beautifully shot in black-and-white by master cinematographer Gordon Willis (The Godfather). Allen finds just the right tone for his subject matter, as we see the weight of the world pressing in on Sandy. Before Martin Scorsese's landmark dark comedy The King of Comedy made the definitive statement on the subject, Allen recognized the danger of fans living vicariously through their idols. In a shocking scene, Sandy has a hallucination in which a fan comes up to him, says "You know you're my hero," and shoots him dead. Just two short months after Stardust Memories was released (and unfairly dismissed by critics), John Lennon was murdered by a deranged fan in New York City.