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    Misunderstood Memories

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    It’s the day after a national election skewed by the cult of celebrity and plagued by a surfeit of misinformation on all sides in which contenders aspiring to new and different roles in public life can’t help but emerge as damaged goods in an environment of anger and outrage. That was certainly the case with Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories (1980) which, coming after going captivatingly romantic with Annie Hall (1977), “all serious” with Interiors (1978) and “soul searching” with Manhattan (1979), was perceived by critics and moviegoers as downright angry and mean-spirited for this stylized, often bizarre study of an acclaimed director who experiences a flood of fragmented thoughts and emotions while attending a festival tribute to his cinematic oeuvre. A baffled Allen, who we now know as an artist who has kept at his craft turning out close to 50 movies across 50 years and remains relentlessly self-assured about what is fictional as opposed to autobiographical in his work, told an interviewer in 1996: “So many people were outraged that I dared suggest an ambivalent love/hate relationship between an audience and a celebrity.” But because Allen has sharp comedic instincts, his blocked and conflicted auteur Sandy Bates faces his neurotic conundrums (some of which are triggered by a director’s eternal headaches, those damn interfering studio executives) with rapid-fire verbal wit and occasional touches of loopy slapstick. Because Allen is a movie lover, Bates’s loopy dreams conveying his creative blockage have tantalizing visual flourishes that pay grandiose homage to Federico Fellini’s (with considerable assist from cinematographer Gordon Willis in gorgeously crisp black-and-white). And because Allen’s romantic impulses are always generously mixed in with his skeptical world view, Bates’s three women – his passionate but unstable ex-lover Dorrie (Charlotte Rampling), the intellectual musician Daisy (Jessica Harper) and the sensibly maternal Isobel (Marie-Christine Barrault) – are treated with uncommon directness and rueful honesty. So despite the caustic doom and gloom that the neurotically fragile Bates sometimes espouses, Stardust Memories rights itself marvelously, and viewed from a 2016 life-in-a-fishbowl perspective, seems eerily prescient regarding the pressure cooker of fame. Just as Manhattan the year before rang out with a mother lode of George Gershwin melodies the year before, its tuneful soundtrack played in part by the Jazz Heaven Orchestra and featuring some incomparable vintage recordings, is a soothing balm to counterbalance any feelings of sour grapes. So if the initial reaction to this “dubious departure” for Allen mirrored the juxtapositions of the morgue-like commuter junker vs. the zippy party express, time might prove kinder to what Jeffrey Lyons called “a film to be seen and savored.” Indeed, Stardust Memories, also featuring Tony Roberts, Daniel Stern and Amy Wright, just might, instead of scorn, merit a solid Sharon Stone smooch when it unreels for your hi-def delectation December 13 on Twilight Time Blu-ray. Preorders open November 30.