Stardust Memories (1980) Dir. Woody Allen
Stardust Memories, Woody Allen’s cinematic love letter to Fellini, represents so much of my frustration with the director’s work. There are a number of Woody Allen’s films that, to me, teeter on the brink of absolute brilliance only to find it out of reach. I watch and say to myself, “If only he made a movie every other year.” Having said that, there is a lot to like about Stardust Memories – the beautiful black and white cinematography comes to mind. The film itself would probably not work for anyone unfamiliar with the work of Fellini – the film’s best gags play off scenes from 8½.
In the film Allen plays, shockingly, a film director who is being honored at a retrospect of his work. Though consistently hounded by fans, all of whom clamor for his “earlier, funnier work,” he is alienated from what has connected them to him in the first place – he can’t find humor in the world anymore. Though there are scenes about a film the director is currently working on, it is presented that he is towards the end of his artistic rope. The retrospect plays an important role in showing the director in the shadow of his past glory. As Billy Wilder told Charlotte Chandler in Nobody’s Perfect, “The festival circuit comes before you’re a legend. It fills that time between working and admitting you aren’t going to work anymore.”
Nothing is more troubling in Stardust Memories than Woody Allen’s contempt for his fans. It’s the key reason the film isn’t a masterpiece. What starts out as a recurring joke about sycophantic fans appearing everywhere, and always at the worst possible moments, turns from satire to scorn. During the retrospective of his work, either when showing his films or during a Q & A, the audience bursts into incredibly loud laughter at unfunny moments. The laughter is purposefully amplified, distractingly so, to the point that Allen is just bluntly saying, “These people don’t get me.” It amounts not to an artistic statement about celebrity but, rather, Allen looking down upon those who purchased tickets to his “earlier, funnier work” that allowed him the artistic freedom to make a crazy Fellini homage. Allen has insisted that the film director he plays in the film is not autobiographical, but that is incredibly hard to believe considering exactly how much autobiography plays a part in Allen’s work.
The film works best when he is having fun playing Fellini, much like his character’s flashbacks to when he’s playing Superman. When Allen changes the tone toward relationships or his distaste of his fans the films stops being fun. Stardust Memories is a good film, it could’ve been great.