Woody Allen considers “Stardust Memories,” his self-reflexive, stylized black-and white film, which owes its entire existence to Federico Fellini’s landmark “81/2,” as one of his best pictures.
But, alas, the film received mixed reviews from the critics and also disappointed at the box office, barely recouping its budget. “Stardust Memories” had the misfortune of being released right after “Manhattan,” one of Allen’s two or three masterpieces.
Woody Allen plays Sandy Bates, a disenchanted, mean-spirited filmmaker, who in the course of the tale turns from making a riotous comedy to directing a confessional drama. In the process, he loses the support of his mainstream audience, and gains the respect of some cinephiles whom he claims to despise.
Early on, in a weekend devoted to a film seminar, Sandy is plagued by hysterical fans who demand that he goes back to his “earlier, funnier movies”; they say they hate his recent, pretentiously artistic efforts (allusion to the 1978 “Interiors”?). He is also hounded by groupies, studio execs, family relatives, and lovers, new and old ones.
As an actor, Allen had never seemed more self-absorbed, self-indulgent, posturing, or unappealing. At one point, Allen’s Sandy declares: “You can’t control life. Life doesn’t wind up perfectly. Only art you can control. Art and masturbation. Two areas in which I am an absolute expert.”
As always with Allen’s films, the casting is good, especially of the women, who represent the “hottest” actresses at the time. Sandy posits himself between Jessica Harper, who plays Daisy, an earnest, cerebral woman, and the more feminine and nurturing Isobel (French actress Marie-Christine Barrault). But, as usual, the femme who steals the show is the gorgeous looking Charlotte Rampling, who plays Dorrie, Sandy’s former lover.
Marie Christine-Barrault, the niece of the famous actor-mime, was popular at the time, after winning an Oscar nomination for the French comedy, “Cousin, Cousine,” which broke box-office records in the U.S.
Rampling was beginning to develop a cult following in the wake of her appearance in Visconti’s “The damned,” and especially after making the controversial erotic Holocaust drama, “The Night Porter.”
Louise Lasser and Laraine Newman, then popular on TV, appear uncredited, and you can spot briefly Sharon Stone (before she became a star) in a passing train.
Production values are excellent, especially the black-and-white cinematography of Gordon Willis, who had shot other films for Allen, and high-caliber score. The music consists of jazz recordings by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Django Reinhardt, and Chick Webb.
The film’s title refers to the take of “Stardust” recorded in 1931 by Armstrong, in which the trumpeter sings “oh, memory” three times in succession.
Sandy Bates (Woody Allen)
Dorrie (Charlotte Rampling)
Daisy (Jessica Harper)
Isobel (Marie-Christine Barrault)
Tony (Tony Roberts)
Actor (Daniel Stern)
Shelley (Amy Wright)
Vivian Orkin (Helen Hanft)
Jack Abel (John Rothman)
Sandy’s Sister (Anne DeSalvo)
Produced by Robert Greenhut
Directed and written by Woody Allen
Camera: Gordon Willis
Editing: Susan E. Morse
Production Design: Santo Loquasto
Art Direction: Michael Molly
Running time: 90 Minutes