Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Stardust Memories (1980)
Studio Line: MGM

A sharp, satirical look at the high price of fame, Woody Allen's Stardust Memories is a "wickedly funny" (The New York Times) story about a disillusioned filmmaker who is just about at the end of his rope. Sparking with the confidence of an artist in full bloom, Stardust Memories is "a film to be seen and savored" (Jeffery Lyons)!

Legendary comic filmmakers Sandy Bates (Allen) is tired of being funny. Teetering on the brink of a nervous breakdown, Bates attends a weekend retrospective of his films, only to confront the meaning of his work, the memories of his great love, Dorrie (Charlotte Rampling), and the merits of settling down with new girlfriends, Isobel (Marie-Christine Barrault). Plagued by hallucinations, alien visitations and the bloodless studio executives trying to re-cut his bleak new film, Bates struggles to find a reason to go on living. But when he falls prey to a gun-wielding fanatic, his zany brush with death reveals that there is value to his own existence, and that often, the best reason to go on living…is life itself.

Director: Woody Allen
Cast: Woody Allen, Charlotte Rampling, Jessica Harper, Marie-Christine Barrault, Tony Roberts
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, standard 1.33:1; audio Enlgish Digital Mono, Spanish Digital Mono; subtitles Spanish, French; closed-captioned; double sided - single layered; 24 chapters; rated PG; 88 min.; $19.98; street date 7/5/00.
Supplements: Collectible Booklet; Theatrical Trailer.
Purchase: DVD | The Woody Allen Collection | The Unruly Life of Woody Allen: A Biography - Marion Meade

Picture/Sound/Extras: C+/C+/D-

If Interiors was Woody Allen's attempt to play Bergman, Stardust Memories puts him in Fellini's shoes. Unfortunately, he doesn't do this successfully, as the result is a largely dull and uncompelling mish-mash.

SM seems to be regarded as Allen's most misunderstood film, and frankly, I think the fault for that lies with its creator. In the nice production notes that accompany this DVD, he claims that Sandy Bates, the role he plays, was not supposed to be an autobiographical character, and that he also intended no hostility toward his audience.

Please excuse my cynicism, but: yeah, right. Has he actually seen the movie? This is a guy who reached the pinnacle of success with 1977's Annie Hall but then got roasted - and appropriately so - for the somber pretentiousness of Interiors. 1979's Manhattan represented a mild retrenching of sorts, as Allen provided more comedy, but he remained much more dour and wore his artistic aspirations on his sleeve. In my book, if it's apparent that you're trying to create something "meaningful" and "significant", you've failed, and that's what makes Allen's immediate post-AH work so problematic.

Really, I think AH marked the perfect balance for Allen; it offered solid comedy but also allowed realistic and natural insights into human behavior. The subsequent efforts seemed forced and artificial; he simply tried too hard.

That behavior negatively affects SM, as much of the movie is a bore. As with Manhattan, most of the film examines the romantic relationships of Allen's character, but this one does it in a much more confused, abstract manner. The reason for that will not be discussed here, as it could be considered a spoiler, but suffice it to say that the pacing can be confusing at times.

How Allen could seem surprised that SM was viewed as a poison pen letter to his admirers is beyond me. He skewers the fans and critics so relentlessly that it was simply astonishing; I can't recall the last time I saw someone so intensely bite the hand that feeds him.

Some of his points are appropriate. Although I don't care for his more serious material, I don't agree with the constant complaints against Allen as though he never should have tried to branch out as a filmmaker. Failures or not, I give him credit for making the attempt, and I think SM gives us a strong - although exaggerated - look at the pressures put on him.

If the movie spent more time on that side of the equation, it might have been more interesting. However, an awful lot of celluloid is devoted to his relationships, and they're all awfully dull. None of the three primary female characters - Charlotte Rampling's Dorrie, Jessica Harper's Daisy, and Marie-Christine Barrault's Isabel - are very developed or well-written characters; they come across as simple shells, not real people.

As such, those aspects of the movie make it seem much longer than it is. Frankly, I spent most of Stardust Memories glancing over at the counter on my DVD player to see how much more of this drag I had to endure. SM isn't Allen's worst film, and at least he attempted something somewhat unusual, but the execution seems limp at best.

The DVD:

Stardust Memories appears in both its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen edition on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the letterboxed image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the widescreen side was rated for this review. The picture quality fluctuates throughout the film but generally seems fairly good.

Sharpness usually appears crisp and detailed, but some scenes suffer from mild softness. Moiré effects and jagged edges pop up on occasion, and I also noticed only a few concerns with artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV.

Black levels come across as variably deep. Much of the time they look dark and rich, but some muddiness can appear as well. Shadow detail seems similarly inconsistent; while most low-light segments are appropriately heavy, some appear excessively thick and indistinct.

The greatest weakness of the image comes from print flaws. I noticed speckles, scratches, hairs and light grain throughout the movie. At no time do these defects seem overwhelming, but they do appear with greater frequency than I'd expect. Without those faults, the picture would rate a solid "B", but they knock it down to a "C+".

Similarly average is the film's monaural soundtrack. Allen continues to prefer mono mixes for his movies, and while that's way out of line for today, it was still semi-acceptable for 1980. As such, the audio lost no points for the one-channel track this time, but I thought about doing so.

In any case, the quality of the sound seems bland but acceptable. Dialogue appeared a little flat at times but often came across as fairly distinct and natural; I never experienced any problems related to intelligibility. Musical quality varied due to source material; a lot of the tunes came straight from scratchy old records. Nonetheless, the music seemed generally clear and crisp. Effects were somewhat dull and hollow but appeared acceptably clean. The track displays little dynamic range and is a pretty ordinary affair.

Stardust Memories includes almost no supplemental features. We find the film's original theatrical trailer plus the four-page booklet I mentioned earlier. The latter includes some helpful production notes.

Other than Interiors, Stardust Memories struck me as Woody Allen's oddest film through 1980. Once again it shows Allen as he attempts to be someone he's not. While experimentation is great, the results are not, as SM seems very dull and uncompelling. The DVD presents decent but unexceptional picture and sound plus almost no extras. Those interested in more unusual Allen may want to give this one a whirl, but that's about as much as I can recommend.

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