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Stardust Memories

Year: 1980
Production Co: Jack Rollins & Charles H. Joffe Productions
Director: Woody Allen
Writer: Woody Allen
Cast: Woody Allen, Charlotte Rampling, Jessica Harper

Every time I watch one of Woody Allen's films I try my hardest to separate the creepy human who made them with the artistry (such as it is) on screen, but it's like he knew about the controversies that would surround him one day and became determined to sow the seeds of doubt early on. In one scene, his girlfriend Isobel (Marie-Christine Barrault) berates him for paying inappropriate attention to her young teenage niece. You'll just squirm.

Aside from all that, it's one of his lesser efforts in that it's constructed pretty roughly and you have a hard time knowing what's set in the present, what's a flashback and what's a dream sequence or a scene from a movie.

We start with a nervous looking man, Sandy Bates (Allen) on a train where everyone's miserable and looking at him judgingly. He looks across at a train on the opposite track and it's full of life and colour, everyone aboard having a party and enjoying each other's company wonderfully.

You imagine it's a dream or musing that adheres to one of Allen's most popular themes (the anxiety of modern malaise), but it turns out it's actually Bates' latest movie. A longtime comedy director, he might be having a nervous breakdown. He constantly worries he might not know how to be funny anymore, wanting instead to make art films, much to the disdain of the studio machinery and the surprise of his fans.

The plot generally follows Bates' travels to a festival where he's set to be feted for his earlier work, but throughout it all he thinks back to three of his former girlfriends, mother to two kids Isobel, the sexy and free-spirited Daisy (Jessica Harper) and the emotionally unstable Dorrie (Charlotte Rampling). The title refers to the place where he and one (or more – I told you it was hard to keep track) of his former girlfriends enjoyed time to themselves, but beyond that it just seems to be an evocative title. Neither the hotel nor the relationships add up to much of a cohesive whole.

There are a few amusing motifs like Bates being constantly harangued by fans, producers, actors and hangers on seeking autographs, thrusting headshots into his hands or just hoping a bit of the lustre of fame brushes off on them. Look out for Daniel Stern, Brent Spiner and Sharon Stone among them.

But years later when we know what's alleged about Allen, some of his films – particularly this one – needed a far more distinct central spine to assert themselves above the tropes of pursuing younger women that come across as gross nowadays.

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