Star 80 (1983)
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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.
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.
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.
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.
Eric Roberts is very believable as Paul Schneider, a promoter who met Dorothy Stratten (while she was a kid working at a local Dairy Queen, in Canada), brought her to Hollywood, and resented her eventual success. Her shooting star to fame resulted in eventual tragedy.
Mariel Hemingway is believable as Stratten, although the truly innocent act is a bit hard to buy. Cliff Robertson portrays Hugh Hefner, a faded figure today, but still virile in the 80's.
The Roberts character is initially sleazy, then desperate, then pathetic. Apparently Paul Schneider could not keep up with Stratten, became overly possessive, and jealous of her success. She became involved with director Peter Bogdanovich, and this was the beginning of the end for Schneider.
The back-story of Hollywood in general and the rat race to stay on top, is very accurately presented. Schneider eventually tried to steal Stratten's name, to license her name and profit from her. When she had had enough, and no longer needed him, he took her fate in his own hands. The finale is stark and realistic. 9/10.
Because most viewers know how the story will end, watching this film is very chilling. In addition, Eric Roberts' disturbing (but authentic) performance as Paul Snider will stay with you for a long, long time. Mariel Hemingway stars as the young and innocent Stratten, while Cliff Robertson has the role of Hugh Hefner.
The final scene, filmed in the house where the murder actually took place, is very difficult to watch. The movie is very well directed and acted. Eric Roberts' performance should have resulted in an Oscar nomination, but no one who plays a character this creepy would ever be nominated. This very good movie will haunt you for days after you watch it.
POSTSCRIPT: It turned out that Roberts would play the majority of his roles as he did Paul Snider. In movies like THE POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE and RUNAWAY TRAIN it was appropriate. In more subtle fare like RAGGEDY MAN it wasn't. Go figure!
"Star 80" is along with "Lenny" the best of Bob Fosse's short but brilliant career.It surely deserves a better DVD transfer than it's 1998 Snap Case, Pan & Scan , 1.33:1, widescreen grainy look. Worth of repeated seeing.
Eric Roberts plays Paul Snider, a sleazy hood who discovered Playboy centerfold Dorothy Stratten and then murdered her and himself in an obsessive rage. It's a heartbreaking, violent and disturbing story on many levels; however, the saddest thing about it is that Stratten wouldn't be worth making a movie about if she hadn't been murdered in the first place. What does that tell you about the lure of celebrity?
Roberts gives a fierce performance as Snider -- he was a very good and almost completely overlooked actor. Mariel Hemingway plays Stratten, and she's rather vapid, which is all the role really requires. Fosse was not able to keep his cynicism and bile at bay, and so while the movie is accomplished, it's also downright unpleasant to sit through. It's as nihilistic as "All That Jazz" but without the flashy production numbers to add some variety.
Mariel Hemingway gives the performance of her career as Stratten, capturing the mixture of wholesome beauty and vulnerability that so many of Stratten's acquaintances described. But STAR 80 is actually less about Stratten than it is about Paul Snider, the small-time hustler who discovered, promoted, and married her--and then lost her through a combination of his own hysterical insecurity and her rising fame. Eric Roberts is simply bone-chilling in the role; it is a performance that should have earned him an Academy Award. The supporting cast is equally fine, with Cliff Robertson and Carroll Baker as Hugh Hefner and Dorothy's mother respectively. But the film goes beyond offering exceptional performances in a tragic story of promising youth cut short.
Director and writer Bob Fosse begins his story with Stratten's death and then presents the history of the Stratton-Snider relationship in a semi-documentary style through flashbacks and flash-forwards. The style serves him very well, for the film quickly develops such intensity that at times it becomes extremely difficult to watch. As it progresses, the story itself becomes a metaphor for hedonism of the 1970s surging into the 1980s: a poisonous mixture of superficial appearances, selfishness, user-mentalities, and disposability. As viewers, we are trapped in a count-down to death, unable to alter a single misstep in Stratten's final days and horrified by the inextoriable drift toward violence. The final ten minutes of the film are certainly among the most powerful, disturbing, and upsetting ever put to film.
STAR 80 proved too unpleasantly real for box office success. This is not an "entertaining" film. But it is a brilliantly done film, one undimmed by the passage of twenty years--and one that, sadly, will likely be as valid twenty years from now as it is today. Strongly recommended.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
Then later, Hollywood in general, and Hugh Hefner in particular, accept the young woman, but want nothing to do with the young man. But that's not consistent with the young man's dream of becoming a flashy Hollywood big shot. He feels slighted, rejected. And "they" have taken his love away from him. The result is tragic.
That's the underlying premise of "Star 80", the true-life story of the young woman, Playboy model Dorothy Stratten (Mariel Hemingway), and the young man, Paul Snider (Eric Roberts). Writer/Director Bob Fosse tells the story from the POV of Snider. And the film's structure consists of one long flashback, from the final sequence. Various characters along the way offer their take on Stratten and Snider.
The film portrays Stratten as innocent, naïve, shy, polite, confused, overly trusting, and a tad vacuous. Snider, part-time photographer and small-time huckster, comes across initially as a jerk. Oily and flashy-looking, he ingratiates himself to Hefner (Cliff Robertson) and other Hollywood insiders. But it doesn't work. Eventually, his possessiveness of Stratten and jealousy of her insider connections, combined with Hollywood's rejection of him, leave him emotionally unbalanced, desperate, and ultimately psychotic.
The film's production values are fine. Eric Roberts, with his very large mouth, not only physically resembles the real Paul Snider, but also exudes behavior and an inner sense of self, consistent with what we would expect of Snider. Mariel Hemingway gives a fine performance as Stratten. I thought Robertson's performance as Hefner was a little flat.
While the film is mostly a character study of Stratten and Snider, it also gives us a glimpse into a ruthless and cruel Tinseltown, where dreams can easily morph into nightmares. To an outsider wanting in, the best advice is ... approach the beast with distrust and caution.
After having her glossed up like an actress in a skin flick, he insinuates her into the Playboy mansion by means of photo images alone. Hefner (Robertson) is impressed by her, as who wouldn't be? Hefner is impressed with her figure and her utterly guileless personality. He's less impressed with Paul Snider who, unlike Hef himself, sophisticated in the most bourgeois way imaginable, has the aesthetics of a pimp -- overdressed, fawning, boasting of his talent and his property.
At this point the American Dream begins to hit some chuck holes. Stratten is like an empty vessel waiting to be filled. Snider has been doing a fine job of animating her but, the more time Stratten spends at the mansion, the more she begins to reflect the values (and repeat the phrases) of Hefner, who strolls around with his pipe and bathrobe, Master of Playgirls, embodiment of 1950s' radical conformity.
It gets worse. While roller skating as part of a horde of guests, she's spotted by a movie director, Aram Nicholas (Rees), whose name in real life as Peter Bogdanovitch. Nicholas whisks her off to make a movie in New York, leaving Snider behind in L.A. dreaming of small triumphs, like a Dorothy Stratten Gymnasium. The inevitable happens, with the loving couple, now married, drawing farther apart and Stratten beginning to repeat the phrases of Nicholas instead of Hefner.
This is all driving Snider nuts back in L.A. It DOES drive him nuts. The ending is tragic.
The writer and director, Bob Fosse, uses a technique similar to the one he used in "Lennie," a series of interviews with people who knew Snider and Stratten. (All are actors, not the actual persons.) Eric Roberts gives a splendid performance as the ambitious and possessive "manager" and husband. The guy is pathetic. When he meets Stratten for the last time, he tells her, "Boy, am I nervous. I must have combed my hair a dozen times." He's mercurial. He can change in a moment from sobbing out apologies to screaming in a murderous rage. He chews the scenery. He chews the carpets. He chews everything. And he does a great job of suggesting the despair beneath the bravado.
Marial Hemingway as Stratten does a good job as well. She's presented as sweet, normal, a little dumb. And Hemingway gives her a little-girl voice that invites nurturance leavened with lust.
The dynamics we see, social and psychological, are absolutely believable, if one word were to be used. All of us have felt something of what we see on the screen. Stratten was a victim, no question, but Snider was something more than a snarling villain.
Bogdanovitch, who was in love with Stratten, hated the movie. Hemingway was too big and gawky. Snider didn't deserve to have his side of the story shown. And the actor who plays Bogdanovitch had no grasp of the real character. Bogdanovitch wrote a book about the whole affair and donated the royalties to Stratten's family.
There really isn't much TO celebrity, as the film shows. Fickle food on a shifting plate, as Emily Dickenson put it. After the murder, Hefner is seen eagerly picking over slides for the next Playmate of the Month. If she had lived, Stratten today would have been one of the footnote people of history, but she might have had a life no less satisfying than those of the rest of us.
The low rating this film has on IMDb is due to the uncompromising and macabre story concerning the murder of playmate Dorothy Stratten by her ex-lover Paul Snider yet on a technical level, Star 80 is an example of bravura filmmaking.
Eric Roberts gives a powerhouse performance, which should have been highly rewarded and Mariel Hemmingway has never been better.
The continuing neglect of Bob Fosse's disturbing classic is reflected in the fact that no DVD version is available in Europe or America.
As a director Bob Fosse was uncompromising and Star 80 is an uncompromising interpretation of the desire for fame. This desire for fame can make people do sick things. This idea in itself is the reason Star 80 is so neglected and rejected.
This is the last film by Bob Fosse and clearly shows what a master of the medium he had become. In fact Bob Fosse, with only five films to his credit, can arguably be regarded as one of the greatest film Director's the movie industry has ever seen.
Highly recommended and due for reevaluation.
There are excellent performances from the two leads in this movie. Mariel Hemingway did a good job of developing Dorothy - from the naive, innocent and shy young waitress who's still finishing high school in Vancouver to the worldly playmate and budding film star. Even in terms of looks, she was perfectly cast. I checked out some images of Stratten on the internet, and the resemblance between the two is eerie. As good as Hemingway was, though, Eric Roberts as Paul stole the show. He developed the character brilliantly, from the street-wise manipulator who may have been using Stratten but who nevertheless did seem to care for her into a guy who was interested only in controlling her and getting what he could out of her, losing his grip on sanity as a result when she finally broke away from him and wouldn't even consider a reconciliation.
The movie is interestingly structured. There are disturbing images from the beginning of Paul, having just committed the bloody murder, still talking to Dorothy's body, there are reflections from those who knew Paul and Dorothy (played by actors) about the events leading up to the murder, and a pretty good dramatized account of their relationship and how it fell apart as Dorothy moved into a different circle of people while Paul was never accepted. The most interesting thing about this is that even though Paul is depicted as a total sleazebag, there's a certain sympathy that you feel for him as he loses Dorothy, if only because he was responsible for her success in a way and it seems that he really did love her - albeit it in that warped, obsessive, controlling and therefore unhealthy and ultimately destructive sense that so many of these stories revolve around.
This is a really interesting movie. 8/10