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Whitin this shockingly beautiful docudrama there is a performance by Eric Roberts that goes beyond anything we had ever seen an actor do on screen. He explodes in front of our eyes. Fearless, horrible, pathetic, sad but above all truthful. With the kind of truth we're not use to deal with. I was horrified because I understood it, like James Mason in Lolita. I'm not sympathising with him but I'm understanding him. The counterpart to Roberts's human monster is not Mariel Hemigway's beautiful Dorothy Stratten but Carroll Baker as Dorothy's mother. We can tell by looking into her face that she knows. She knows,she senses, she fears to be right because there is so little she can do. Carroll Baker's superb portrayal represents us. We dread what she dreads and like her, we're impotent to the unavoidable. Star 80 is a masterpiece. Like all of Bob Fosse's work, nothing is casual. The puzzle that he presents us with, connects the dots in a twisted, although immediately recognisable, pattern, leading inexorably to the most excruciating domestic tragedy. From Othelo to O J Simpson. Our every day horror served cold as a shattering work of art.
Eric Roberts was clearly the `STAR' of Star 80. His performance as the self
proclaimed Gods gift to Women character Paul Snider is really what makes
this film. He makes the viewer take an instant dislike to him from his
opening scene and carries it all the way through. Mariel Heminways
portrayal of the ill fated Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten is maybe
lukewarm marginal. Cliff Robertson is cast as Hugh Hefner but somehow
doesn't seem right for the role.
Sadly this was in fact a true tragic story. See it for no other reason than Eric Roberts superb portrayal of the seven letter word usually considered vulgar meaning a stupid, incompetent or detestable person boyfriend/husband/manager of Dorothy Stratten. Vastly superior to the alternate version 1981's Death of A Centerfold.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Star 80 is about many things, but above all it is about the dark side
of the American Dream. It is a counterpart to Arthur Miller's Death of
a Salesman, because it depicts the disillusionment and self-destruction
of a self-made man.
Snider believes in the American Dream, that if you outwork and out-hustle everyone else, and have a marketable product to hawk, you will be successful. It so happens that Snider's product is sex. Snider rises up through sheer determination (visually depicted in the opening work out scene, in which he pumps iron and does push-ups until he's on the verge of having a stroke). It also helps that Snider has no moral principles that hold him back.
Paul achieves the pinnacle of his desires when he gets to visit the Playboy Mansion. He not only gets the opportunity to socialize with Playboy Bunnies, but he gets to meet his spiritual father -- Hugh Hefner. Hefner is another self-made man who has turned sex into a big business, but unlike Snider, he is socially respectable.
But Paul blows it when he gets too familiar with Hefner. Hefner takes an instant dislike to Paul. As Dorothy rises up the food chain in Hollywood, getting roles in TV and in film, Paul finds himself banished from the charmed circle of Hefner's Mansion and he thereby self-destructs. All of his projects -- opening a male dance club, trying to get a waitress bimbo into the Mansion to meet Hef -- are failures. His wife drifts away from him, having an affair with her director.
Paul is out of his element in L.A., and soon crashes and burns. Fosse provides imagery and conceits of "falllng" and "crashing" -- such as the scene when the loan sharks dangle Paul out of 14-story hotel window, and Fosse's camera swish-pans sideways and downwards to give us an uneasy sense of vertigo and impending doom. This motif continues in the carnival scene, as Fosse inserts quick shots of amusement park rides whipping downward and sideways. There is even a doll perched precariously on a book shelf in Aram's office -- probably a symbol of Dorothy. There is also a telling line of dialog, when Dorothy's mother asks Paul what he will do if she doesn't sign the consent form, and Paul says, "I'll jump out a window." In the final rape/murder/suicide scene, there is an emphasis on falling -- and the final shot looks down from high above, at two dead, bloody bodies that seem to have dropped into Hell.
Fosse's use of pop music is superb, and revelatory. "Big Shot" by Billy Joel is about egomania fueled by coke, and not only does Paul want to be a big shot in Hollywood, he takes the ultimate "big shot" when he blows his brains out with a Mossberg shotgun. The Band's "Up On Cripple Creek" tells about a man who lives off his girlfriend. There is a lyric about betting on a nag, which is visually underlined in another scene when Paul changes horses on a merry-go-round (further expressed when Paul "changes horses" by trying to turn a bimbo waitress into another Dorothy). Billy Joel's "Just The Way You Are" provides ironic commentary. Paul is not only dissatisfied with himself, but he constantly strives to change Dorothy from a naive teen into a mature, sophisticated woman -- and he succeeds too well, as Dorothy grows up and realizes she must get away from him. Rod Stewart's "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy" is appropriate, as it provides auditory reinforcement of Paul's eager desire to please and make a good impression.
There is a lot of thought put into the film. Geb is not merely a doctor, he is a plastic surgeon, and has moved to West L.A. to flourish in his trade. His profession is all too apt in a world in which surface appearance is everything. He also gives the key speech in the film, in which he reminds Paul that in L.A., "There's always going to be someone with more money than you, someone with a longer penis than you." That last observation really gets to Paul. He feels grossly inadequate and must overcompensate in every situation. Geb also makes the questionable claim that the Rolls in his garage is just an investment, rather than an emblem of conspicuous consumption.
The film has a Shakespearean quality. Hefner is the King, Dorothy is the Princess, Aram is the Prince, and Paul is the Bastard. People like Geb are the loyal attendants in the King's court. Some, like Aram, are bestowed with the favor of the King, while others are dispatched into exile. Paul can't take the rejection, and kills Dorothy and himself. If the sexual revolution was really a Pandora's Box, then Paul is one of the demons let loose to hover ominously over the orgy.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is one of the best movies of all time. It was made by Bob Fosse and is in the same pseudo documentary style as LENNY, also by Fosse. STAR 80 is about Dorothy Stratten, a playboy playmate who is killed by her husband. But the movie centers more on the boyfriend turned husband, played by Eric Roberts. What's amazing about this movie is that you actually feel for Robert's character, Paul Snider. He is such an incredible actor that you really see a human side to Snider. He's a liar, and a cheater, and conman, but human nonetheless. You follow Snider before he meets Stratten, during her rise, and for a few short minutes, after her death. This movie is really about him, and is an incredible study on a deranged and jealous human being, who felt that who he had 'discovered' was being taken away from him. If you are familiar with the true story about Stratten, and if you haven't seen anything about it, the director character who Dorothy falls in love with towards the end - eventually setting off Snider - is really Peter Bogdonavitch. The movie he is making with Dorothy is "They All Laughed", a favorite film of Quentin Tarantino. Cliff Robertson, as Hugh Hefner, is terrific. Hefner's real life brother plays a photographer and, although his screen time is minimal, he gives a very good performance and has a funny line. I also liked the actor who played Snider and Stratton's friend, a plastic surgeon who they shared a mansion with. His character adds insight to the real Paul Snider just by being his friend who Snider can confide in. All in all, this is a great movie. What really works is how Fosse mixes the documentary style with narrative. It never gets boring and is always very entertaining as you go in and out, and back and forth, from past to present, and it never gets confusing. You follow Stratten's rise to stardom, but are really centering on how this quick rise burst Paul Snider's plastic bubble. Snider was a beast of a human being, but, it takes an incredible actor like Eric Roberts to show his human side... faltering as it is. You will, watching this, wonder both what happened to Eric Roberts (and why he really only appears in cable movies lately) and why he wasn't nominated for an Oscar. Or Bob Fosse for that matter. This is one of his best all-time films, as it's one of the best movies of all time, period. You just have to watch it, experience it, and, most importantly, for young beautiful girls who might get hustled by con men promising you the 'good life' ("You'll be a star"), you can LEARN from this movie as well, just as you'll wish that Stratten herself had had this movie to show her the way out of her horrible fate.
This was probably Eric Roberts' best movie. He steals the show as the
sleazy, small-time hustler Paul Snider. Snider aches to be the
big-shot, the real "Star 80" but is a failure at everything he
tries---except when he gets Dorothy Stratten recognized by Playboy.
Then, just as things might break through for them, Dorothy dumps him
for a film director (in real life, Peter Bogdanovich). Of course we
know the rest---sleazeball Snider kills Dorothy and himself.
Bogdanovich wrote a scathing book about the case, "Death of the Unicorn" in which he lam basts Hugh Hefner (no more invitations to the mansion for him). What is really weird is that Bogdanovich later married Dorothy Stratten's younger sister, who was in junior high when Dorothy was killed.
Eric Roberts stole the show big time in this movie. He created one of the
most despicable characters in all movie history, the small-time hustler
Snider. From the moment early on in the film when he's seen practicing his
falsely sincere greetings in a mirror, the viewer takes an instant dislike
to him. As he manipulates the naive and beautiful Dorothy Stratton (Mariel
Hemingway) for his own selfish purposes the feeling gets almost
exponentially larger. Hemingway is unlucky in a way to have to go up
such a dominating performance. She can't hope to match it, but she does a
good enough job to make the film work. Cliff Robertson is excellent in the
role of Hugh Hefner, which probably wasn't an easy situation, given that
that man is both a well-known figure yet still a mysterious legend to
Contrary to what a lot of people thought, I don't think Hefner came out
looking that badly in the way that he was portrayed. This was a sad and
story but he wasn't the villain.
The movie serves as an epitaph to an ordinary young woman with extraordinary beauty who never had a chance once she got in the clutches of such a self-serving user. For me the most painfully sad moment in the movie came when Dorothy's mother (Carroll Baker) contemptuously tells Snider, "She never even used to go around in her bathrobe before you came along."
This movie is obviously not a lot of laughs but it's still worthwhile, especially for the outstanding performance of Roberts.
An excellent film. Fosse's direction is flawless as he takes us inside the world of a controller who loses his grip and power. Mariel is wonderful as Dorothy Statton. Eric Robert's performance is of Oscar Caliber quality -- his portrayal haunts you and you can see his weakness -- you hate him, but a part of you can almost feel sorry for him until his real intentions are suddenly realized. This film was very well-done and deserves to be seen. This was Fosse's last film and it deserves to be seen. From the first frame, one is drawn into a spiraling cycle of destruction. Mariel's performance is perfect as she creates the naive young girl who as she changes into a more wordly woman who wants to explore life and all the possibilities which are opening for her. Much like A Star Is Born, this account of one Hollywood partner gaining fame as another falls. Not for the squeamish.
It's hard to do a review of a movie where the real life events are so tragic AND this movie is sad from the start because you know how it's gonna play out. I will say though that I have seen this many times and that it is a very well done, terrifically acted movie. Obviously, no matter how good this movie was I'd prefer it not to have ever been made because I'd prefer the real life events this is based on, never to have happened at all. Since it WAS made, however I can say without a doubt that the main cast members do their job-Roberts makes you hate,dispise him with a passion and Hemmingway is fragile, lovely and achingly sweet. I have no doubt how easy it was to get swept up in the glamourous lifestyle Stratton lived, I think most people would have myself included. Seeing the story enfold as it did, and knowing the final outcome, it's hard not to yell at the screen at the end,even knowing that you can't go back in time and change the events that happened. Dorothy Stratten was young and lovely and kindhearted and had her whole life in front of her-it's hard to say one "enjoyed" a movie where the ending was so tragic and in this case true so I won't say that. But it IS a movie I have seen more then once and would recomend wholeheartedly. VERY very welldone.
Before Boogie Nights or 54 there was Star 80. Star 80 is similar to these latter-made films in that it charts the rise and fall of a beautiful and naive youth. But much more so than those films, Star 80 is a dark film, saturated with the seething decadence of 1970s shag-carpeted hip celebrity culture. The film itself is not so blatantly pulse pounding in that head-tripping disco style characteristic of the 1970s, but it certainly evokes that feeling. The Southern California setting of the film pulsates in its strip joints and private duplexes, but our view of it, through the filmmakers' perspective, does not. We remain all-too aware of the conclusion of the film and fate of Dorothy Stratten. The filmmakers, to their credit, rouse our imaginations of the hip LA nightlife, by not revealing too much of the underbelly. The sense of displacement for both the doomed heroine, who is from Canada, and the audience is evoked by such cinematic techniques as scene-crossing voice-overs, still-image montages, and back-flashes. When the filmmakers let us see shots of a naked Playboy Bunny's corpse and let us hear her sweet, soft voice at the same time, the visual-aural juxtaposition is unsettling to our sense of continuity. We hate what we see, but like what we here. Even with the film's explicit nudity and outright sexual overtures, there is still a sense of unexplored quarters behind the glitzy veneer of Hugh Hefner's Playboy mansion and LA's raunchy strip clubs. For example, Paul Snider is portrayed as the self-destructive lover/shadow to Dorothy Stratten, but little is known about his personal history. We get only casual remarks about his imprudent personality and of course what we see of him when he walks and talks onscreen. We, like the characters around him, must infer the rest about Paul Snider. The surface of the film is that there is no smooth surface, just a dark brooding landscape filled with the nooks and crannies of human emotion. Only a film this textural would resist painting Hugh Hefner in a superficial manner like the public media persona that precedes him. Underneath the silken pajamas and smug look of this sultan of playboys is a man who seems every bit as seedy as Paul Snider is. But money and confidence apparently can wash away a lot of dirt. For example, when Hugh Hefner silently refuses to entertain Paul's "business" ideas, we get a peek at how a highly self-assured man avoids engaging a darker mirror image of himself. The final scene is tragic, depressing and truly the antithesis of a traditional denouement; no tension is relieved. That's pretty amazing considering that the audience knows from the opening shot how the film will end. The scene is elaborately played out with Paul plummeting to the nadir of his obsession, plastering the walls of his apartment with glossy, air-brushed images of Dorothy Stratten in order to create some sort of sacrificial shrine for the young maiden. His altar, a homemade "workout" bench, introduced earlier in the film hints at his creepy, unplumbed psychology and perverse desire for control. If Star 80 had been made today, the final scene would have been portrayed in a trashy, over-dramatized "re-enactment" like those from the tabloid television shows. Star 80, which was made in the early 1980s, seems to have a more organic feel of its subject than Boogie Nights or 54. Because these films were made by jaded and introspective perceptions of the 1990s, it's reasonable to assume they don't have the immediacy and grasp that Star 80 has over the 1970s. It's much easier to make a film shortly after a certain time period when the era has been lived through and digested into the cultural subconscious. Although this is true for Boogie Nights and 54, the mood isn't as easily drawn out onto film because the interim gestation period was much longer than for Star 80. After all, civilization has recently persevered through the 1980s and most of 1990s both painfully and triumphantly. On the scale of time, this difference is insignificant, but the cultural gaps between the time of disco and the time of DVD are mind-bending.
The movie isn't perfect, but I'm surprised at its relatively lukewarm ratings. I can't add too much to what the others here have said about Eric Roberts' performance (it was spectacular), but I'll add that this film stayed with me for a long time. I'd seen it on HBO back in 1984. Recently, I stumbled across it again. After watching it, it took days for the spell that the movie had on me to wane.
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