STARDUST MEMORIES (Woody Allen, 1980, USA)
Film Director Sandy Bates is a prisoner on a ghostly train that embarks upon an elliptical journey through the stardust of yesterday. Both homage to and loving parody of Fellini’s masterpiece 8 1/2, Writer/Director Woody Allen’s cinematic doppelganger suffers the conflict between life and illusion, truth and perception, compassion and bathos, faith and nihilism.
STARDUST MEMORIES is a film within the film that confuses the boundaries between cinematic invention and reality: its destination revealed to be the story itself. Woody Allen begins the narrative with a claustrophobic tension, his fictional ego trapped on a one-way train with a collection of lost souls; as Bates looks out the window he sees another train traveling in the opposite direction, the passengers celebrating and joyous. He makes eye contact with a beautiful woman and struggles to open the window as the train lurches forward. Woody Allen toys with our perceptions as he marries this sequence with Fellini’s ambitious opening…but this is no dream: it is a projection upon a silver screen, Sandy Bates’ unexpurgated conclusion to his most recent film. Suddenly, shadows jump out and discuss the triteness and flaws, churlish producers and professionals like cataracts impeding Sandy’s creative vision.
Sandy Bates becomes his own worst enemy, torn between three lovers and victim of his own Zeus Complex; he attempts to find meaning in his troubled world through his Art. The harder he grasps at life the more it trickles between his fingers. His childhood is only a thought (or acquaintance) away, breaking through the veil of time like a parlor trick. He fears the present and future, the existential oblivion that will become his final resting place, but rebels against regression: he is a man in a transitory and neurotic state of being.
The cinematography is beautifully rendered in black and white, accentuated with a sublime jazz score that includes the rare vinyl recording (pops and hisses included) of Louise Armstrong’s classic. The editing breaks visual convention with the consistency of dream logic, reflective of Ouroboros and self-renewal. Finally, the entire melodrama is revealed to be fabricated, the characters and actors disparate entities, as the projection gently fades away. If only he made funnier movies… Final Grade: (B+)