In the surreal opening scene of Woody Allen's ninth film, he is traveling on a train populated by losers, grotesques, and bums. He looks out the window and sees another train filled with happy, beautiful, and well-to-do individuals. Desperately, he tries to escape to the other train but can't. This scene is an homage to a similar sequence in Fillini's 8 ½ and it sets the tone for Stardust Memories
How does the creative person cope with a dark, lonely, and claustrophobic world? What strategies are available to one who finds himself trapped in his own work and locked up in other people's expectations for and definitions of his creations? How does one deal with the gap between aspiration and reality? Woody Allen's art is special because it always raises good questions. Stardust Memories offers a glimpse into the life of a moviemaker who faces up to his own spiritual exhaustion and his inability to love. The story proceeds via the "logic" of free association and mixes daydreamers with flashbacks to the past.
Sandy Bates (Woody Allen) is a celebrated movie director who is the chief attraction of a weekend film seminar at a seaside resort in New Jersey. His fans are an assorted mix of unappealing folk who besiege him with requests for autographs, endorsements, attendance at benefits, readings of their scripts, and explanations of his movies. Bates also has personal problems to attend to: the end of an affair with a neurotic actress (Charlotte Rampling), the appearance of his French mistress (Marie-Christine Barrault) at the resort claiming that she has just left her husband for him, and his own romantic attraction to a violinist (Jessica Harper) who is present at the seminar.
The filmmaker comes off as a slightly jaded humanist who can't accept either the adulation heaped upon him by his fans or the love offered by the three women he's involved with. In a dream, Bates envisions a creature from outer space advising him: "You want to do mankind a real service? Tell funnier jokes." But how can he joke around when the world is plunging toward entropy?
Stardust Memories is a somber meditation on the celebrity syndrome and on the uneasy role of an artist who is ill-equipped to deal with the movie business as football game/brothel. In this film, Woody Allen kicks himself around and wonders whether there is any way to maintain integrity in a realm where scoring points and selling one's flesh seems to be the modus operandi.