Fabricated Memories

Fabricated Memories

Posted by Mike Finnegan on Sep 26th 2017

With 10 years of moviemaking under his belt (14 if you count his zany reinvention of a Japanese spy film he transformed into 1966’s knockabout What’s Up, Tiger Lily?), writer-director Woody Allen had covered the comedy waterfront, waded into the darkly dramatic currents of Interiors (1978, a Twilight Time title) and fashioned two deftly navigated explorations of the serious and humorous with Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979). In this series of films (except Interiors), he felt he was an actor playing a character. He told Woody Allen: A Life in Film chronicler Richard Schickel: “I think that people have always felt, or wanted to feel at least, that the person they see on the screen in general bears some kind of resemblance to the real-life person. There are cases when many elements are the same. But as a rule just as often, if not more often, they’re not the same people. And so I’ve always been in that situation in spades, because I write my movies and unlike Charlie Chaplin, say, who puts on a moustache and a hat and a coat and a cane, and looks totally different than the Charlie Chaplin who shows up at the studio to direct a film, I dress in real life the way I dress, ’cause I play a guy from New York, ’cause I have no acting range. I can’t do what Dustin Hoffman does, or Robert De Niro does. I play a guy who lives in New York, or sounds like he lives in New York, who’s not believable as the chief of police, who’s believable in a certain number of things, and has a certain limited range.” To him, Stardust Memories (1980), which opened 37 years ago today and depicted the chaotic, fantasy-laced tale of a moviemaker honored at a film festival even as he deals with a huge creative block, alternately overwhelmed by the attentions of his fervent fans and detractors, and unnerved by thoughts of the shifting tides of his romantic relationships with three beautiful women, was just a “fabrication,” not “autobiographical.” By that time, he’d had enough of a body of work to play an “auteur” named Sandy Bates, even though he knew that he wasn’t actually that auteur. Several critics and audience members in 1980 begged to differ, and the negativity and perceived hostility was quite palpable. The film broke even at the box office, though, and Allen persisted in considering it more of a favorite across a massive output toward which he would continue to profess having “no negative or positive feelings in any great pronounced way about any of my films.” 

Stardust Memories, shot in entrancing black-and-white by the great Gordon Willis, has had a formidable shelf life. It is ambitious as a riff on the neurosis of film creation (ripping a page from the playbook of Federico Fellini’s landmark 8½), remarkably cast (Charlotte Rampling, Jessica Harper and Marie-Christine Barrault as Sandy’s three loves, plus Sharon Stone, Tony Roberts, Daniel Stern, Amy Wright, Anne De Salvo, Leonardo Cimino, Brent Spiner and critic Judith Crist) and fluidly inventive in ways Allen hadn’t explored before. That included this particular observation he made in conversation with Schickel: “Well, when I did Stardust Memories I myself sensed an ambivalent feeling that the public had toward celebrities. In Stardust Memories there’s this guy that comes up to me and is telling me how much he loves me, and he’s such a fan of my work and all of this. Later when I meet him in the movie he shoots me. And this was a good six months before John Lennon had that same tragic experience [actually just over two months after the finished film opened]. You know, if you’re a celebrity, you feel that intensity from the fans, and…this intensity has an unreal quality to it, and an ungrounded quality. It doesn’t reflect a logical adoration of you or the merits of your work. It’s got a different component, and that component pushed an inch the other way often turns out to be violent….And if you’re not a celebrity, if you’re not familiar with the ambivalent feeling when they’re mobbing you, when certain people are writing you and pressing themselves on you, it’s hard to quite grasp that. But it’s known, and many times you’ll hear a celebrity say after they’re adored and loved by the crowd and everything, they’ll final get [away] and say, ‘Boy, that was scary.’ They sense quite correctly, uh, an odd feeling people have toward celebrities.” Allen’s newest fabrication, the 1950s-set Wonder Wheel (2017) starring Kate Winslet, Juno Temple, Justin Timberlake, James Belushi, Debi Mazar and Max Casella, will face its first public audience of potential fans and detractors at its New York Film Festival world premiere screening Saturday October 14. Meanwhile, explore a bold turning point in the filmmaker’s connection to his audience by revisiting Stardust Memories on TT hi-def Blu-ray.