“What do you think was the significance of the Rolls-Royce?” they ask at the end of the movie. “I think it represented his car” is the ironic reply, considering the layers of imagery and ideas posited throughout, it’s perhaps only more powerful because Woody Allen seeks to attack the very people who put too much stock in such things.
Similar to ‘Deconstructing Harry’, the plot concerns Sandy Bates (played by Allen himself) who arrives at a celebration of his early works in his home town, however unlike Harry where the journey is rather inconsequential to the examination of the titular character, other than to illustrate his need for validation he cannot find in his personal life, Bates’ trip furthers the existential quandary suffered by him. Haunted by memories of a former lover Dorrie (Charlotte Rampling), Sandy is forced to choose between another unhealthy fixation on the younger intellectual Daisy (Jessica Harper) and the warm and stable Isobel (Marie-Christine Barrault).
The protagonist’s worry over being taken seriously beyond his comedic pieces of the past are perhaps a sly reference to the beating Allen himself took after ‘Interiors’, the last of his serious movies which was widely divisive among critics; the Fellini styled opening is perhaps his own personal jab at those that were never going to be receptive to such a work from a man like himself. Unfortunately this style of filming is not altogether suited for his prose, appearing as an unnecessary digression in an as always tightly run show. It is beautiful, but it does not come across as altogether relevant.
Such struggles are encapsulated in the questions Bates’ asks of himself and humanity, in a caricatured world of fawning fans who hound him for autographs and present him with gifts that he has no need or want for. He asks how he can serve the world in any significant way only to be told to “tell funnier jokes”, so that despite the power of the questions he poses, the lack of any answers can be irritating (although Allen’s reference to existentialism and the lack of answers being the answer in itself could provide some light, if not another absurdly deft misdirection).
Like Harry, the piece again asserts the difference between art and life, Bates believing it to be the only thing he can control but even that is not completely true but satisfies the by now obligatory to Freud.
Bates himself is not exempt from becoming a caricature, in many ways Allen goes further with him than he does the placating masses. Parallels between him and other characters such as Alvie in ‘Annie Hall’ or the earlier mentioned Harry are obvious, yet he never appears as fully formed as they do; they asked similar, if not the same questions but it did not feel as incomplete.
Again the female characters come off as more developed, the haunting Rampling illustrating a passion and intensity that even Allen manages to return the same, a very rare occurrence indeed. Dorrie and her relationship with Sandy is the most lasting memory one can take from this other than mere ideas. Isobel and Daisy are beautifully played and bring the roles to life as much as they can be but they are more ideas than persons in their own right, allowing for a conflict that in Annie could provide for Alvie in one singular form.
An ending of sorts is provided and either intentionally or not, satisfies the idea of the movie within the movie and the compromise needed to bring it to the screen. It satisfies the romantic ideas set forth but not the people themselves.
Whatever the case, despite mocking the same thought, ‘Stardust Memories’ has and will continue to inspire a great deal of debate; it is not his greatest work or even his most experimental or bleak but it is certainly one of his most interesting.