Production Budget: $10 million+
US Gross: $10 million (unknown foreign numbers)
The things you learn with hindsight and the help of the internet. Anyway, after doing what little research I usually do, I find that Stardust Memories is a real love it/hate it experience with many fans. Some hate it so much that seeing it in 1980 was their straw that broke the back of their relationship with the filmmaker. This was the first Allen film that was at least a dissappointment and at worse a bomb and some of those former fans have never looked back. To those that love it will call it a masterpiece and some will say it is their favorite. I say that while I also read a true quote that every Woody Allen film is someone’s favorite Woody Allen film.
Stardust Memories is the American remake of Fellini’s 8 1/2. I am sticking with the term “remake“ and not “huge fucking rip off“ for the sake of this review. The original film was a semi-autobiographical film about Fellini. Film director Guido is going to a retreat to relax after the filming of a movie. People all over are hounding him for what his next big project is. Despite all his talk though, he has absolutely no idea what he is doing. During this time he is remembering/fantasizing about the women who were in his life. In Stardust Memories we have director Sandy (Allen) is attending a retrospective during a weekend as the editing/finishing touches are being put on his latest film. He is having a crisis because he no longer wants to do comedies anymore but that is all the fans and the studio wants. He is also having issues with women as he has to choose between a seductive neurotic woman and one who is more mature.
Woody Allen has always said his trademark nebbish persona is all an act and that Stardust Memories is not autobiographical. This leads you to think Woody is either full of it, or one of the leading innovators in trolling; edging out Joaquin Phoenix by about 30 years. If you look even passively you can see characters and their real life couterparts, similar events, or just look at the guy and how he acts in real life. Now in my limited reading mind you I have heard people who are more knowledgable state that the thoughts of the characters are not Woody. I can certainly buy that the framework of the story is semi-autobiographical and the characters are hyper-charged versions of him. Point is while I can see Woody is not putting his whole brain out there for everyone to examine, I at least think he lays the foundation with some truth.
One last point I want to knock down before moving on to my thoughts. Apparently one of the things fans (or former fans to be more precise) had a problem with was Allen’s portrayal of his fans in the movie. All of the fans in the movie are ugly annoying people who hound him constantly over autographs, pitching scripts, and criticising him that he should return to his “earlier, funny films“. Allen has even gone on to say he regrets maybe going too far but says the fans in his films do not represent how he actually feels about his real life fans. I will defend Woody Allen on this one. I did not feel like he was saying all of his fans were like this. I just saw this as a joke about what all celebrities probably deal with. This is not ALL fans but there are certainly some rabid fanboys who give everyone else a bad rap.
Where the hell was I? Oh yeah, my actual thoughts on the film. I think while the films I have reviewed so far have been accesible to everyone, I think this is the first one I have to give a reserved recommendation to. I think that so many more people can connect with 8 ½ is because the issues being dealt with can be understood by everyone. Guido has an unabashed love of art but is struck by the worst case of writers block. And the women he fantasises about are women like his first crush. This is all done in a fun circus like dream world. Allen’s problems are, how shall I say, a little more layered. Allen has no problem making art but simply doesn’t want to be brow beaten into making wacky comedies anymore. He has problems with making comedies when there is suffering in the world. He has questions like what is the purpose of living and why is he compelled to make art? His relationships are more problematic as one is a psycho five days out of the week, and the other he doesn’t love as strongly but is more mature. While Stardust tries for the same comedic tone, it can get bogged down with some darkness and existential angst. It resonates more for people who are familiar with Woody Allen’s work where I think people going in cold will be wondering “what the hell am I watching?“.
While Allen borrows a lot from Fellini, you do feel that Allen makes this his own movie by the end. The structure may be the same, but everything that is inside is out of Allen’s head. For the most part, he is able to get his points out in funny and amusing ways. One of the funnies parts is when he makes contact with superintelligent aliens and ends up asking him what woman he should end up with. Sometimes Allen can go a little overboard with his angst which makes things a little unbalanced. And no, this is not someone asking he only do his funny earlier films. At times, the tone can just be awkward. The acting in this film is very good. Charlotte Ramping, who plays Sandy’s neurotic girlfriend, gives a great performance which makes me wish she were in more of his films (I may be wrong, I’m not sure if she appeared in any others).
So in the love it/hate it question I have to chicken out and say I just liked this movie. There were some things which kept me from really embracing the movie. I am told this is something of an acquired taste and I do intend to see this a few more times (although not any time soon after watching all the movies in this retrospective) to get a more concrete opinion. If you love Woody Allen’s work, then you should check it out and see if it is up your alley. If you haven’t seen any of his films, this is really not the best place to start. And if you hate him, then this will certainly not be the film to win you over. Next up is A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy.