Reality, Absurd Dreams, and Faux History: Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories & Zelig

January 12, 2017 | By

Twilight Time’s latest pair of Woody Allen films represent what to some critics are high and low points, if not films that divided audiences.

StardustMemories_posterIt would’ve been morbidly amusing to sit in a packed house during the original theatrical release of Stardust Memories, a self-critical drama / black comedy, which didn’t offer the romance, lush music, and dreamy atmosphere of Manhattan (1979), and apparently pissed off some fans and snooty / overly emotional critics who expected More of the Same and received a javelin to the heart.

Stardust works, but it is a jarring experience for those expecting fast zingers and absurd antics, and as I state twice in my review, it’s a film for the puzzled to revisit at a later time, knowing from first exposure it’s not a dry comedy.

Zelig_posterTo the other end is Zelig (1983), a technical masterpiece and seminal mockumentary that works because every ingredient is near-perfect. Without the vintage look and sound, the film would lose a bit of its grainy luminance, but it’s the script, direction, and performances that make this extremely odd tale of a ‘human chameleon’ so compelling.

I get a sense Allen worked out the idea as a short story before stretching it out into a feature film because it follows a solid structure that’s the antithesis of Stardust.

I also wonder if the cinema of Peter Watkins had any influence in the vivid recreations of faux newsreels and interviews, but being Allen, Zelig is also the tonal antithesis of Watkins’ brilliant (and justifiably bleak) The War Game (1965).

Then again, Allen may have been tickled by this vintage BBC short on’spaghetti trees’ that’s brilliant and utterly deadpan.






Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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