I want to dislike Woody Allen. I want to find him unpleasant, and I’m not even talking about his private life, which is his alone and no bearing on his films. No, I’m talking about the blatant self-involvement of his movies, the presumption that we the audience have nothing better to do than sit through hours of his analysis and his insecurity and his overt fantasy fulfillment of scoring hotties far above his physical class. Everything about his neurotic, whiny, selfish, arrogant filmmaking should make me turn away in annoyance.
But somehow, I watch. Not many of them, and not often, but whenever an early Woody Allen film comes my way I wonder why I didn’t seek it out. There’s something there that’s more than it seems either before or after I see it, and I don’t know what that means. Perhaps it attests to Allen’s skill at bringing us into his world so completely that while we are watching, we have none of the above-mentioned hang-ups. What I think when he’s not around and what I think when I’m watching him are completely different things, and come to think of it I have friends like that too; the lovable rogues, the entertaining assholes, the endearing sociopaths. Not that Allen’s any of those things; he’s a neurotic depressive, and somehow it works for him. I found myself actively enjoying Stardust Memories, laughing out loud and wondering why no one talks about this film.
Yes, it’s extremely self-absorbed. More so than most of his films, I think. There are pretentious filmmaker conceits, like shifting levels of reality. Woody plays "Sandy," a neurotic depressed Jewish filmmaker who used to make "funny" movies but spends the entire film wondering why he can’t make something that means something. In the end, in the height of vanity, we learn that we’ve been watching Sandy’s new movie, all about Sandy’s (and Woody’s?) struggles with moviemaking. What’s real? Who’s an actor? Does making a movie about wanting to make a movie with depth confer depth to the project? Does anyone really care?
I don’t. I liked the movie, I enjoyed it, and even if it was two hours of wandering through Allen’s twisted and ever-more-interesting-to-himself psychology, I had fun traveling with him. I don’t want a steady diet of it, and I’d probably rather not hang out with him, but for a little brain candy it’s a good time.
The black and white cinematography is interesting here, with the whites (at least on the VHS I viewed) sometimes glaringly bright. I don’t know if this is intentional or not, but I went back and forth on whether I liked it. On one hand, it made some scenes difficult to watch, but I also eventually felt that it fit the tone of the film. Charlotte Rampling as Dorrie is not only very good but of striking appearance, like a female Peter O’Toole (especially around the lips and eyes) but when he was hot. I was unable to take my eyes off her. Also appearing is Jessica Harper of Suspiria and Phantom of the Paradise infamy and a favorite of mine. She gets to play a slightly less ingénue-ish woman here, which is nice, especially given the smoky low tones of her speaking voice. Oh, and watch out for a scene in which Allen and Rampling fight about Allen’s supposed flirtation with a too-young relative of hers, which predates by quite a bit his notorious domestic troubles of a couple years ago.