"Doesn't he know he's got the greatest gift anyone can have, the gift of laughter?" Woody Allen stars as filmmaker Sandy Bates, who, like John Sullivan in Preston Sturges's Sullivan's Travels
, no longer wants to make comedies. As studio executives threaten to wrest control of his latest film, he reluctantly attends a weekend film-culture festival in his honour, where he is besieged by journalists ("I'm doing a piece on the shallow indifference of celebrities"), groupies ("I drove all the way from Bridgeport to make it with you"), and persistent oddballs ("Can I talk to you about my idea I have for a movie? It's a comedy based on the whole Guyana mass suicide").
After the exhilarating Manhattan, Stardust Memories was a dramatic departure that threw critics and fans for an outraged loop. But out of all of Allen's films, it is perhaps the one most ripe for rediscovery. It poses the same dilemma Stephen King would later tackle in Misery: What happens when a popular artist is held captive by an adoring audience that doesn't want him to change? The answer may come from an extraterrestrial, who in one of the many fantasy sequences advises the comedian, "You want to do mankind a real service? Tell funnier jokes."
The film is impeccably cast with Charlotte Rampling, Jessica Harper, and Marie-Christine Barrault (of Cousin/Cousine) as the three women in Sandy's life. There are also choice bits by Sharon Stone as a fantasy woman on a train, Daniel Stern as an aspiring actor, Louise Lasser as Sandy's overwhelmed secretary, Laraine Newman as an unimpressed studio executive, and Tony Roberts as Tony Roberts. My own aunt, Victoria Zussin, utters the film's most famous line as the patron who tells Sandy she loves his movies, especially "your early funny ones." --Donald Liebenson