I have viewed a handful of Woody Allen films on the blog since its inception, looking quite favorably upon his 2011 work Midnight In Paris, while being a bit more cautious about liking Shadows and Fog, one of the directors lesser known works. However, I have yet to tackle one of his more well received and critically acclaimed films, in this case Stardust Memories. Sure I have mentioned Allen's work on at least one or two occasions via Top Ten Thursdays, but have yet to really tackle one of his more interesting cinematic offerings. Fortunately, Stardust Memories more than offers me an opportunity to deal with what can be agreed upon as some of his traditional themes. Stardust Memories, is incredibly referential in its existence, making clear its homage status towards Fellini's 8 1/2, while also making note of Allen's direct influence via The Marx Brothers, as well as other contemporary filmmakers. In fact, Allen is so up front in his purpose full references to the classic European directors that you can instantly forget this and realize that Stardust Memories is very much its own work, one of such sweet sentimentality and bitter regret that it does not take the constant bemoaning of existential motifs to clearly identify this as a work by the established comedic director. Stardust Memories, is inarguably Allen's most artisticly oriented work, which is understandable because the director is clearly contesting the nature of art and its place in an individuals daily life, whether it be as an overarching metaphor to their every action or as a driving force in the manner with which they engage society. I always laugh during Woody Allen films, I would be hard pressed to find anyone who deems themselves an intellectual that would not find his movies funny, but with this film in particular I often found my laughter to be rooted in the close to home nature of many of the main characters struggles, sure he is trying to find a means to justify his place artistically, but so much of the larger schema of the film is the character merely figuring out why he exists at all...a constant existential crisis I seem to find reemerging on a daily basis and something that appears to constantly prey upon Woody Allen to this day.
Stardust Memories focuses on Sandy Bates (Woody Allen) a well-established director who is suffering from a considerable loss of fan base because he is failing to make films that were blatantly funny, like some of his original works, instead; he has meandered into metaphor and despair as his latest work suggest, which focuses on a set of train passengers riding off inexplicably into what appears to be a garbage dump. Despite chastising and pleading via everyone from his lovers to his producers, Sandy adamantly believes that his newer films speak more to the human condition than his earlier comedies which he finds childish and ignorant. At the urging of his wife and company executives, Sandy agrees to attend a retrospective of his works up until this point in his career, an event held at the Stardust Hotel which proves to be essentially exactly what he expected, a series of people asking fluff questions while simultaneously begging him to either procure an autograph or agree to attend a slew of various charitable events and auctions. The occurrences seem rather rudimentary and uneventful until a lover from his past emerges, a French actress named Isobel (Marie-Christine Barrault) causes Sandy to question his life up until this point, particularly his relationship with his wife Dorrie (Charlotte Rampling) who has stayed adamantly beside him despite his clear history of infidelity and constant harping on his own existential being. As Sandy deals with the issues his past films begin to collide far to beautifully with his own struggles paralleling his life as he flails to deal with it. It is only after a "literal" otherworldly experience that Sandy realizes his futile efforts to struggle with a grander human existence and, instead, celebrates the most simple moments of his life, in a meta-meta-cinema moment the film within a film, which happens to also be within a film ends, with Sandy (or Woody) leaving the screening of Stardust Memories, the individuals reflecting on the films closing, asking the same questions that the assumedly fictional critics did within the films opening scenes. In Woody Allen's world life imitates art, not the other way around.
In the hands of any other director a flat out homage to, and at some points remake of 8 1/2 would be pretentious and self-serving, yet even when Stardust Memories is clearly existing to serve the cause of Woody Allen it manages to be such an artistically sound piece of cinema that its validity and beauty is not to be questioned. The fact that Allen is so self-aware throughout the film certainly helps to explain the work as being detached from pretension. Sure the images of Grucho Marx on the wall juxtaposed with the violence in Vietnam could be deemed in bad taste, but I would adamantly argue that they exist in the film to display the foolish notion that an artist should always and at once be commenting on the tragedies within the world while also being accessible. The characters in Stardust Memories miss Sandy's old funny pictures, but are incapable of realizing that the questions he seeks to answer and study are not possible within a comedic setting, because lets face it there is no funny way to deal with the now infamous image of a man being shot in the streets of Vietnam, yet some moviegoers seem to desire this occurrence, without realizing its inherent flaw in logic, as well as its overall bad taste. Allen's films are, as opposed to someone like Jean-Luc Godard, rarely concerned with the political suffering of other countries, instead he contests the problems of guilt related to realizing you having nothing to suffer from, certainly not economic woe or physical harm. While there is something to be said about the zealous approach to how Godard merges comedy, cinema and politics, it often fails miserably, as opposed to Allen, who in Stardust Memories manages to take a very personal guilt about lacking a critical global eye and not only mock it, but in the end justify it as a reminder that he chooses not to speak on certain blatantly corrupt acts, because his filmic medium would do no good to its level of seriousness, instead, Stardust Memories offers both a means of comedic escape as well as one of cinematic art at its finest.
Key Scene: As it stands right now the hot air balloon scene is the second most beautiful thing I have seen shot on black and white, only to that of Godzilla's death in the original version of the film.
Tragically there is no bluray available for this film at the moment, as such I suggest waiting patiently for its release because it will only make an already gorgeous film that much nicer.