Today is Woody Allen’s 75th birthday. I wrote a long guide to his movies to mark the occasion, but I did not have time to make it as comprehensive as I was hoping to make it. Maybe I can expand it before his 80th birthday. I also wanted to celebrate the day by watching one of his best films. Of course it was hard to choose, as he has he has a lot of great movies. Although Annie Hall remains one of his most beloved movies after all these years, Stardust Memories has always been a favorite for me, and is, I think, one of the best representations of him as an artist.
Allen has always vehemently denied that there is anything autobiographical in this film about a filmmaker who goes out of New York for a weekend retrospective of his films and is barraged by fans, many of them who prod him to return to his “early, funny films”, while he also struggles with his various relationships with women. Allen has repeatedly mentioned that the reason the film wasn’t more successful was audiences assumed that it was 100% autobiographical and he was trying to say that they were stupid for liking his early funny films. The slow box office might have also had something to do with a film including a scene of a deranged fan shooting a celebrity being released just after the death of John Lennon.
I accept Allen’s claim that that it is “silly” to read this as an autobiographical film, but at the same time I think this is the most perfect expression of his philosophy on life and art. Sandy Bates, Allen’s character in the film, is a celebrity who is always besieged by fans, rather odd fans. “I was a Cesarean,” blurts out one man while getting an autograph. Another fan, a teenage girl, bribes the hotel porter to be let into his room and bed. All through the film tribute weekend, he fantasized about more innocent times, when he practiced magic tricks as a boy, or about his numerous complicated relationships with women. It is clear that he prefers living in the world of fantasy. In his standup comedy days, Allen used the joke “I hate reality, but unfortunately it is the only place where you can get a good steak dinner.” In Stardust Memories, Sandy seems to hate reality, but unfortunately it is the only place where he can make movies, and to do so he must deal with forgetful personal assistants (played by Allen’s real-life ex-wife Louise Lasser), chauffeurs with criminal records and studio execs who tag happy endings onto his film to make them more marketable.
In addition to being full of interesting ideas, Stardust Memories is also one of Allen’s most beautifully shot films, and each shot of Gordon Willis’ black and white cinematography looks like an art photograph.