There's no denying that Stardust Memories paints a bleak picture of Bates' profession with its stark black-and-white cinematography by Gordon Willis and a gallery of grotesque characters who wouldn't be out of place in a Diane Arbus photograph or a Hogarth painting. However, it is entirely speculative whether Sandy Bates is really an alter ego for Woody Allen. Though the director has denied it, many critics felt Allen was using this film to express his disgust with his audience, the critics, and the film industry in general. The New Yorker's Pauline Kael called the film "a horrible betrayal...a whiff of nostalgia gone bad," while Andrew Sarris of The Village Voice thought the film seemed "to have been shaped by a masochistic desire to alienate Allen's admirers once and for all." Even Charles Joffe, Allen's steadfast executive producer on most of his films, had his doubts. In an interview in The New York Times, Joffe said, "When I walked out of the first screening, I found myself questioning everything. I wondered if I had contributed over the past twenty years to this man's unhappiness." But for Allen, Stardust Memories was about an artist on the verge of a mental breakdown who viewed the world through a distorted state of mind.
Despite the controversy surrounding Stardust Memories, the film remains one of Allen's most complex and fascinating works. It was shot mostly in the Nassau area of Long Island with additional locations in Asbury Park, the old Filmways Studio in Harlem, and the Ocean Grove Great Auditorium, which served as the exterior of the Stardust Hotel. The 'Film Culture' weekend event in Stardust Memories is modeled on the Tarrytown film seminars organized by movie critic Judith Crist who also has a cameo in a flashback sequence. Andy Albeck, the former head of United Artists, also makes a brief appearance as a film mogul who is concerned that Bates' new movie won't be funny. And in the opening sequence of the film, you can spot Sharon Stone in her movie debut as the beautiful blonde who blows a kiss to Bates from the opposite train car window.
Among the many memorable scenes in Stardust Memories are the comic nightmare where Bates' 'hostility' goes on the rampage in Central Park, pursued by police and tracker dogs; the appearance of an extraterrestrial named Og who confesses he prefers the filmmaker's earlier films; a sequence which epitomizes Bates' idea of a perfect day with his former lover, Dorrie (Charlotte Rampling), accompanied by Louis Armstrong's rendition of "Stardust" on the soundtrack; a paranoid fantasy in which an autograph hound assassinates Bates. The latter sequence would prove to be prophetic when, just a few months later, former Beatle John Lennon was murdered outside his New York City residence by a psychotic fan.
Director: Woody Allen
Producer: Robert Greenhut, Charles H. Joffe (executive), Jack Rollins (executive)
Screenplay: Woody Allen
Cinematography: Gordon Willis
Editor: Susan E. Morse
Art Direction: Michael Molly
Music: Dick Hyman
Cast: Woody Allen (Sandy Bates), Charlotte Rampling (Dorrie), Jessica Harper (Daisy), Marie-Christine Barrault (Isobel), Tony Roberts (Tony), Daniel Stern (Actor).
by Jeff Stafford