Released By: Twilight Time
December 13, 2016.
Woody Allen, Charlotte Rampling, Jessica Harper, Tony Roberts, Daniel Stern
Purchase From Screen Archives
I had a rough idea for this review penned out as I watched Stardust Memories for the first time in years, but then I read the insert booklet by Twilight Time essayist Julie Kirgo, and realized that she had covered all my planned points...and in a manner much more precise and intellectual than I was going to. So, different approach...I do not like Woody Allen. Not necessarily the man, himself, although the media coverage of Mr. Allen has been less than spectacular in the last bunch of years, but his films. I first became aware of his films when I caught Sleeper (1973), a film that I detested with such fury that it's past accurate description; and catching up on his current (at the time) works in the 90's did nothing to alter that perception. It was sometime later that I caught Annie Hall (1977), Interiors (1978) and Manhattan (1979), and figured that maybe I'd matured as a film viewer, holding each of the films in a very high esteem; but a return to some of Allen's other works left me cold, outside of 1987's Radio Days. For the most part, Allen's quirk does nothing for me.
That being said, has there ever been a bigger cinematic middle finger to audiences and critics than 1980's Stardust Memories? Allen has since stated that the film is not autobiographical, and that the critics who railed against him for his criticism of his fans and the industry that made him a star are way off the mark. I prefer to think that this is not the case, and that this is Allen's statement against the studios and movie-goers who wanted less art and more comedy. Shot in black and white...in 1980...perfect!!! Stardust memories opens with a screening of an unfinished new film by Director Sandy Bates (Allen) that is rejected based on its ugliness and lack of comedy, overwhelmingly stated by the studio executives. They want a return to Bates' earlier, laugh-filled excursions, and none of this depressing nonsense with seagulls and trains that end up at big piles of garbage. But Sandy isn't the happy camper he once was...the wall-sized photo of Groucho Marx that previously adorned his kitchenette has been replaced with the well-known photo of a Vietnamese police officer shooting a prisoner in the head...he is overwhelmed by the suffering in the world, the possibility of the demise of humankind, a demented paranoia about every worst possible outcome.
Sandy's handlers, however, have no time for his delusions, encouraging him to bathe in his past glories by attending a two-day retrospective of his earlier films at the seaside Hotel Stardust in New Jersey. In spite of his reluctance to revisit the films he is trying to distance himself from, Sandy's dismay with his current setting prompts him to head to the retrospective. His fears about the event are immediately realized as he's beset by social parasites; lobbyists for charities begging for him to attend their fundraising events, scriptwriters with half-baked movie pitches, girls showing up in his hotel room with the approval of their husbands, and of course, autograph seekers, who hound Sandy at all hours of the day and night. No answers that he gives on the interpretation of his films or his private life are enough...his public consistently want more than the filmmaker can give. Only in the company of fan and attendee Daisy (Jessica Harper) does Sandy feel comfortable, as he plays back scenes from his past and his many relationships, showcasing the sad trend of a successful man for whom the chase represents the only interesting part of an intimate relationship. As if on queue, the arrival of current girlfriend Isobel (Marie-Christine Barrault), who has left her husband for Sandy at long last, drives the Director further askew, obsessed with recreating an idealized version of a doomed relationship from long ago.
Largely hated by critics and ignored by all but Allen's most die-hard fans, Stardust Memories has since gained a more favourable reputation, and rightly so. The quirk balances well with the art, as in previous classics such as Annie Hall and Manhattan; Woody gets his psychoanalysis yuks in here and there, as well as the required Nazi humour, re: pigeon with swastika on its wings, but also manages to juxtapose the very sad relationship scenes that exist with past love Dorrie (Charlotte Rampling) for maximum effect of both contrasts, inspiring heavy emotion when needed. As has been stated, Allen disavows any claim that this is autobiographical, but the Fellini 8 1/2 connection is far more fun to accept, and it humanizes Allen to the point that he's quite likable, even for a non-fan such as myself.
Of course, it's too simple to just call Stardust Memories an autobiographical film, and leave it at that; it operates on a number of different levels which almost guarantee that everyone will walk away with a take-home message, whether it's a comment on Hollywood, on the price of fame, social classes that all end up at the same garbage dump; or that sometimes, a car is just a representation of a car. In any event, Stardust memories is a comedy, a drama, a....romantic comedy/drama...that combines Allen's trademark cinematic nuances, an outstanding cast, and Gordon Willis' beautiful cinematography in an appealing manner.
Twilight Time brings Stardust Memories to Blu-ray in an AVC-encoded 1.85:1 transfer that showcases how natural a black and white film can look. Dark, but not too deep, and detailed while retaining a healthy grain, Gordon Willis' gorgeous cinematography is on full display here. Contrast is wonderful, and no issues regarding video artifacting or dirt and debris were observed.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 (English) track was worrisome at first, until I realized that I was hearing an intentionally crackly old-timey record playing on the soundtrack. Fortunately, this was not a problem with the audio track itself, which remains strong and consistent...largely dialogue-driven...throughout. No complaints here, and Twilight Time has included their usual Isolated Score Track as a separate option.
A Trailer for the film, the MGM 90th Anniversary Promo piece, and the Twilight Time Interactive Catalog are also available, as is a wonderful booklet/insert essay by Julie Kirgo.
The Final Word:
Yes, sometimes a Rolls Royce is really just a car, but Allen's Stardust Memories leaves itself open to many interpretations. The Twilight Time Blu-ray, while lacking in extra features, offers a great way to see the film.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!
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