I first saw Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories on the day of its premiere, 26 September 1980, at the now-defunct Baronet theatre on the Upper East Side, alone. I no longer think as I did at the time that it is Allen’s best film, but it’s certainly the most impressive of his early middle period. It was, to that time, maybe his darkest work (not counting the Bergman-obsessed misstep of Interiors), and considering it now, Stardust Memories‘ conclusion is far more ambivalent about the redemptive quality of art than Fellini’s 8½, which inspired it. The following decade saw Allen experimenting with the styles of many other American and European filmmakers — Husbands and Wives (1992, Cassavetes), Shadows and Fog (1991, Lang and Pabst), and the brilliant Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989, Renoir) — but it was in Stardust Memories that Allen’s form began to reach beyond mere parody and satire of filmmaking styles.
In part it is because the satiric and parodic structure of Stardust Memories can’t contain the tragedy of one of its central characters, Dorrie, played by Charlotte Rampling. Towards the end of the film, the sequence below shatters this shell, and the story deliberately never recovers from this depiction of mental terror. Dorrie is one of the girlfriends of the movie’s lead character, Sandy Bates (played by Allen), and through the film she is on the way to a psychological and spiritual breakdown. Eventually she is hospitalized and Bates visits her in a mental institution. Even 32 years after first seeing it, the sequence is haunting. The cinematography is by Gordon Willis; the film was edited by Susan B. Morse: