Stardust Memories (1980)


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Woody Allen always plays himself in his films, but Stardust Memories is the closest to him just being Woody.  I think he would say he’s no closer to being this character than any others, but because Sandy is based on Woody’s public persona, it feels the most real to an audience that only knows Woody from his movies.

That’s one of the main themes of the film, people obsessed with image or more specifically Sandy’s image.  Woody Allen plays Sandy, a successful comedian turned filmmaker.

Sandy has three love interests in the film: Dory the actress, Isabelle the mother and Daisy the one with the boyfriend.

We jump around between the three relationships and how they each seem to show a different side of Sandy.  Just like the crowd of fans is obsessed with Sandy’s movies, analyzing them, focusing on his life, etc., these women are pulled towards Sandy in different roles.

Dory meets Sandy the director.  She’s an extra in one of his films (within the film), and he falls for her and casts her as the lead actress in his next film.

Daisy meets Sandy as a fan, but someone who is much more reserved than the other fans.  She is familiar with his work through her boyfriend, but she herself is an artistic individual, and that’s what they have in common.

Isabelle is the pleasant, attractive woman who is there to comfort him.  We don’t know how they meet because they already know each other when the story begins.  Isabelle is the rock to keep Sandy grounded.  He calls upon her to stay with him because he’s overwhelmed by the hoards of pushy fans.  She comes to his rescue, and she’s just super nice and easygoing.  We know she has just left her husband, and she’s a caring mother of two.  She’s also French.

The story is pretty scattered, jumping around in time, and it feels to me like these reviews I write.  I’m remembering the story of each movie as I write about it, and oftentimes I forget things until the end so I plug them in at the last second.

In Stardust Memories Sandy has to deal with people putting him in a box.  The executives want to control him and change the ending of his movie, and the fans want him to be as much of a genius as they’ve imagined.  Sandy himself is putting the women he dates in their own little boxes.  He wants to control Dory despite her increasingly erratic behavior, and he wants to keep Isabelle close enough for comfort but not too close that he can’t pursue Daisy.

The film is also an homage to 8 1/2 by Federico Fellini.  At least, this is what I’ve read.  I still haven’t seen that film but I need to.  Anyways, the story is about the creative process and the distractions that come with creative success.  Sandy is being pulled this way and that, and he seems to be out of control most of the time.  It’s control that Sandy wants.  That’s why he’s so attracted to Daisy, I think, because he chooses to be.  Daisy seems a little more withdrawn so Sandy holds the power by choosing to go after her when everyone is coming after him.

Dory and Sandy are together for a while before they break up.  This happens long before the “present day” story in which he stays at the Stardust Hotel and Isabelle and Daisy cross over.  They even meet each other, in fact.

No one close to Sandy understands what he ever saw in Dory.  Sandy admits she was great two days a month and unpredictable the rest of the time, but he assures himself that he loved her all the same.

At one point Sandy appears to be shot only for us to learn that it was a hallucination.  He moans Dory’s name in front of Isabelle, and Isabelle runs away, distraught.

Sandy must chase her down and he only convinces her to not be mad at him by telling her that it’s what the audience wants.  And he’s right.  Isabelle seems like the best person for him because she’s so consistent and reliable.  They kiss and the audience claps, calling Sandy a genius.

The last shot shows Sandy returning to the empty theater to pick up his sunglasses before walking away.

So this film was scattered, but it was carefully scattered.    He plays with roles within and outside of the film.  We question our own roles.  In many of his films, Woody addresses the camera and the audience directly.  Here, any point of view shots are designed to put us in Sandy’s headspace.  Multiple times there are shots in which a character talks to Sandy but they look at the camera.  Then Sandy walks out from behind the camera and they look at him.  We are Sandy more than we are the audience watching Sandy.  That is further enforced because there is an audience within the film that we look at.  Rather than simply analyzing Woody Allen’s character, we are left to analyze the people analyzing Woody.

During several Q&A sessions with Sandy, the audience asks questions that I could see myself asking.  Then I felt stupid, like I shouldn’t bother picking apart his films because as he seems to admit, a lot of times he just picks something and goes with it.  There isn’t meaning behind everything, and yet by looking at a large body of work you can get a sense of someone’s tendency.  You might have a person who, in response to danger, punches the person close to him.  He might say it was a reflex and there was no deeper meaning behind the punch.  But if he’s constantly in danger and constantly punching the person closest to him, then we know there is something behind it, whether he knows it or not.

Woody knows there’s something deeper.  He openly questions what the point of all this is, and by having his audience/critics within the movie, he’s facing critiques of his own work directly.  He’s questioning not just why he should make films but also… god, I don’t know.  I thought I knew, but I lost it.

Well, Woody is looking at everything.  There’s a scene in which omniscient aliens come down and tell him that he should just continue to make people laugh because that’s what he’s good at.  If he has a purpose, that’s it.  They say they liked his earlier funny films, which is almost surely something said to him at that time.

Annie Hall and then particularly Interiors marked a huge deviation in Allen’s work.  This film isn’t another deviation but it is a fold in his filmography.  It’s like his first few films were a linear line on a graph, moving upward.  Y=X+2, for example.  Then with Interiors, it became Y=X+2-4, or something.  It’s still a rigid line but it changes direction.  Then Stardust Memories is Y=(X+2-4)squared, or something.  It starts to evolve, incorporating the direction of his first films and his only dramatic film.  It’s all under the umbrella of this film.

Whereas Love and Death was a summary of all his early, slapstick comedies, Stardust is a summary of Annie Hall, Interiors and Manhattan.  He’s becoming more aware not just of the film medium but of the ways people consume it and what they want.

He knows that each film isn’t watched within a vacuum, but rather you bring your own ideas into each viewing.  If I know Woody Allen has tendencies in his movies to do certain things, then I expect it to continue in his next one.  Woody wants to pull the rug out from under us, revealing a gaping whole underneath, but he also wants us to be aware that we’re falling.  This movie isn’t that we fall, it’s that we watch ourselves falling.  It’s mostly us falling, actually.

Sandy gets shot by a deranged fan.  That’s a vivid image of what fandom does to the artist.  In many ways, like I just mentioned about the vacuum, Woody can’t get an authentic reaction from an audience because he’s Woody Allen.  He needs a pseudonym or something, but he’s in most of his films so it’d be hard to miss him.  I think, in Woody’s eye, the only way to get a genuine reaction from the audience is to be constantly reinventing yourself so that they are forced to think about the film.  If it challenges their perception then that’s better than them just nodding their heads and giving a thumbs up.

So why make movies?  That’s what Sandy asks himself and the world around him.  There’s no good answer, and we shouldn’t expect there to be a good answer.  All of his previous films suggested that the world is absurd and nothing makes sense, but, depending on your perspective, that can be a good thing or a bad thing.  Sandy doesn’t know if it’s good or bad, and in that way this is a good summation of his previous films.  He’s also questioning the points he’s made in previous films, and oh my god I can’t remember anything I’ve just typed.  This is all stream of consciousness, I’m feeling and thinking so many things about this film.  I have so many questions.  ok. you know what this is?

This is how we’re supposed to feel.  I feel overwhelmed and so did Sandy.  He has this gigantic grid of riddles and semi-answers and opinions like it’s all a huge puzzle.  It all seems to be there so he’s stressing himself out trying to figure it out.  His movie is just like that (and many Coen Brothers films are this way too).  All the answers of what he’s trying to say seem to be there, but it might be a dead end.  He gets shot out of nowhere and we think “ohhhh, he’s showing us how the audience murders the artist, I’m so smart,” but then he didn’t get shot.  He only hallucinated it.  So he can do whatever he wants with his movies because he has complete creative control, so he does exactly that: whatever he wants.

I feel like I’ve finally done it.  I always read about the “death of ego” and it finally happened.  I have no ego, I am nothing, I am a free floating glob of energy.  And yet this will be the seventh time I’ve said I (number 8) so I (9) guess I (10) have not reached the point of the death of ego.  We can never disassociate ourselves from what we do, think, say, argue, believe, etc.  No matter what, we bring ourselves with us.  And Woody does the same.  He always puts himself in his films because they are born from within him.  The fact that he’s constantly acting in his movies shows this, and he’s always playing the same character.  He exists as himself in each of his films.

The reason a lot of people think this is an autobiographical film is because it contains the image of Woody Allen that they are used to.  They see Woody Allen as the genius comedian-filmmaker who makes movies about himself.  But Annie Hall might have felt more autobiographical to a woman who once dated Woody Allen because that might have been how she saw him.  But we don’t know, this is just how we see him (or at least did at the time).

In one scene someone critiques Sandy’s body of work and it hits the nail on the head in describing Woody Allen’s previous films.  He’s labelled a narcissist, etc. One studio executive, complaining about a scene in his film that we start the movie with says about artists, “they try to document their private suffering and fab it off as art.”

At the same time, with all of this stuff going on, this movie is just another imitation of another film, 8 1/2.  Woody Allen’s other films parodied different types of movies, often referencing Ingmar Bergmann and putting his own spin on rom-coms (Annie Hall and Manhattan in which he does not get the girl in the end).  In Stardust, one of the actors says about a movie he and Sandy worked on: “An homage?  Not exactly, we just stole the idea out right.”

Finally, the heart of the story is when Sandy describes being happy.  Everyone constantly asks him why he liked Dory (you remember Dory, right?  She was from earlier in this write-up, she was a character long ago in this movie).  Sandy says there was no logic behind it, like there might be with him getting together with Isabelle.  Isabelle makes sense and Dory didn’t.  Well, Sandy describes a moment in which he and Sandy were in his apartment and they shared a smile, that was it.  “That simple moment of contact moved me in a very, very profound way,” he says, calling back to Interiors when Joey reflects on the image of her mother as a younger woman.

We’re just dealing with images here, some have an affect on you and some don’t.  It’s all subjective, like art is as a whole.

In the end Sandy, as I wrote earlier, gets together with Isabelle because it makes logical sense, and it’s what the audience wants.  He’s choosing logic over emotion, but he acknowledges that it’s not what he really wants.  He’s finally giving the audience the ending they want, and the audience loves it.  In Annie Hall and Manhattan we didn’t get this ending.

So in probably his most complex and mind-numbing riddle of a film, he gives us the neat, bow-tied ending we wanted in his previous films.  It’s like a Rube Goldberg machine: complex intricacies that all lead to something simple, like putting butter on toast.

Up Next: A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982), Zelig (1983), Broadway Danny Rose (1984)

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