Grotesque

Stardust Memories, written and directed by Woody Allen; starring Woody Allen (Sandy Bates), Charlotte Rampling (Dorrie), Jessica Harper (Daisy) and Marie-Christine Barrault (Isobel) (1980): “Tell funnier jokes!”, the aliens tell filmmaker Sandy Bates during this movie. Bates is plagued by the feeling that he needs to move beyond comedy into more meaningful drama. Of course, Allen himself was plagued by the same feelings in the late 1970’s, which led to the depressing, Bergmanesque Interiors (1978), which Allen did after his biggest commercial and critical success, Annie Hall.

And pretty much everybody hated Interiors.

Stardust Memories uses Bates’s attendance of a weekend celebration of his movies at the Jersey Shore Hotel Stardust as the loose frame for a tour through Bates’s memories, dreams, nightmares, and creative problems. It’s a riff on Fellini’s 8 1/2, and Allen and his casting director fill the movie with grotesques. This is one of the ugliest, weirdest looking crowd of extras and minor roles ever assembled. Is this how Bates and, by extension Allen, views his fans and critics? Good question.

But the movie also pokes and prods the pretensions of Bates, who is not, the film also seems to suggest, the deep thinker he wants to be. There are some very funny setpieces throughout this film. There are also some tedious sections. The whole thing seems fascinating but somewhat inorganic, though the ending clarifies a lot of the prior murkiness. Recommended for Woody Allen fans.

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