11 January 2007

Stardust Memories (1980, Woody Allen)

{64, B/B-, ***} | Film Forum, "Essentially Woody"

• Third viewing, but it had been about 20 years [clutches head in agony] since the second. My teenage opinion was probably somewhere in 'mixed' territory, so consider this a slight upgrade.

• Standard beef deems this a poison-pen letter from Allen to his fans, but the charge doesn't stick; the Fellini rejects Sandy encounters throughout are really no more grotesque than decorating your breakfast nook with a larger-than-life-size replica of Eddie Adams' Saigon execution photo. Two films after making his daring leap into straight drama, he's already questioning his own motives, albeit not as nimbly or sharply as Sturges did in Sullivan's Travels. Scenes in which Sandy can't move ten yards without being accosted by sycophants and hucksters, however, can't help but feel a tad whiny.

• You know what recent critically-disparaged-movie-that-I-nonetheless-admired has a similar sensibility, both in terms of its playful reflexivity and its scattershot anti-narrative? This one. Same basic ending, even.

• What holds the film back from greatness, I think, is Allen's rather endearing but dramatically fatal reverence for European women (which arguably mirrors his reverence for European cinema). Charlotte Rampling's Dorrie never gets beyond beautiful-but-neurotic, while Marie-Christine Barrault's Isobel, who's meant to represent the more sensible half of Sandy's split personality, is treated with such Sphinx-like delicacy that she winds up utterly colorless. I might be able to accept both women as fantasy projections were it not for the robust presence of Jessica Harper, whose morose sardonicism makes Daisy seem like the only flesh-and-blood female in a world of Stepfordfemmes. Since Allen's main project in Stardust Memories is the conflation of personal and professional dichotomies—i.e. crazy passion:art :: sane comfort:entertainment—it's a big problem that he treats two of his three female characters with awestruck kid gloves. (He was also, of course, between muses at the time.)

• Interesting how this subject always pushes Allen in a more formally adventurous direction. At the time, this was his most radical film; today I would bestow that honor on its even more rancid cousin, Deconstructing Harry.

1 comment:

Nictate said...

Full Frontal was terrific and captures L.A. life perfectly.

I actually liked Deconstructing Harry.

I've watched both films a few times and am always entertained by the keen observations both make on the absurdities of modern metropolitan malaise.