- Movie Rating -

Stardust Memories (1980)

| September 26, 1980

Stardust Memories opens, rather lovingly, with a scene borrowed from Fellini’s 8-1/2.  Sandy Bates (Woody Allen) sits in a train car populated by sad and grotesque individuals whose eyes bear down upon him as if he doesn’t belong there.  He might agree.  He looks out the window and sees another train car populated by beautiful people having a party.  He panics, thinks he’s on the wrong train and tries to convince the officious ticket-taker otherwise.

Sandy is a filmmaker who is successful beyond anyone’s dreams.  He has legions of fans and is surrounded by sycophants, groupies, hangers-on, opportunists and moochers wrapped around his ankles at all hours of the night.  When he isn’t trying to get rid of the man who wants to do a complete psychological study of him – “Have you ever had sex with an animal?” – he’s dealing with a groupie in his hotel bed who believes that their astrological signs have willed them to copulate. 

Sandy is so beloved that his fans have put together a weekend-long retrospective festival of his work (based on Judith Crist’s Film Weekends at Tarrytown House), but he doesn’t want this.  He’s not in a place where he is in the mood to be admired, not for his genius as a filmmaker, not for his intellect, not anything.  His work in comedy is meaningless to him (his fans are forever crowing “I like your early, funny films”) but he doesn’t want to be funny anymore.  There’s a flaw in the universe, life is meaningless and we’re all going to be blinked out of existence sooner than later.  With that in the works, who needs funny?

That’s the intrigue, and also the problem with Stardust Memories, a film in which Woody seems to be indicting the machinations of his success, the pressures on his time and his ever-present questioning of the fate of the universe.  If he’s so successful, why isn’t he happy.  More to the point, if he’s so successful, what has he got to complain about?

All throughout Stardust Memories, Woody tries to answer that question.  The problem is that he hasn’t given us a lead character that we care about.  He’s taken this trip before.  Alvy Singer was miserable but lovably so.  As was Isaac Davis in Manhattan.  Those characters had misery but they seemed to have  moments when they could step out from underneath the cloud.  Sandy doesn’t.  He wallows in misery all through the film, whether it is over his success, over the women in his life or over the constant string of people at his feet.

The problem is that he’s so successful and so beloved that it comes off like pointless, ungrateful bitching and moaning.  There’s no solid purpose to his misery.  After a while, we gather that he’s just a miserable person and we grow tired of him.  He’s selfish, insecure and self-serving – which you hear every time someone refers to him as “Mr. Bates.”  Think about that.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1980) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized