10 January 2012

STAR 80/1983


1983/ Director: Bob Fosse/ Writers: Teresa Carpenter, Bob Fosse

Cast: Mariel Hemingway, Eric Roberts, Cliff Robertson, Carroll Baker, Roger Ree, David Clennon, Josh Mostel, Lisa Gordon

Star 80 is the 1983 film by Bob Fosse that deals graphically and unflinchingly with the rise of Playboy Playmate of the year Dorothy Stratten to modest fame and her brutal murder by her controlling and fame obsessed husband Paul Snider. The film is done in a type of documentary style with actors playing the significant people in Dorothy's life adding hindsight to the event. We know what the ending of the film will be and Fosse takes us directly right to the bloody scene itself in and then retells the story in various flashbacks and narrations. While perhaps not Fosse's best movie it is a well shot and edited film that has actually been criticized for dealing with the subject matter in such a glossy and stylish manner. It is significant for Fosse as well in that it is the last film this great director ever directed. He went on to work in other areas of film making and production. This it too bad really as this is the same skilled director who also gave movie goers Lenny and All That Jazz.

Eric Robert's performance as the pimpish and success driven Paul Snider is not over praised. He does a masterful job of showing the shallowness and insecurity Snider possessed as well as the depth of his jealously and manipulativeness of a naive Dorothy Stratten. Some scenes are worth several replays simply for Robert's performance alone. On the flip side however I have read several overly critical reviews of Muriel Hemingway's portrayal of Dorothy Stratten, the one most common criticism seems to be that she simply was not as beautiful or sexually enticing as Stratten was. I agree that Dorothy Stratten had that perfect Playmate charm that made her the object of any red blooded man's fantasies, but I feel Hemingway, and director-scriptwriter Fosse, were trying to reveal more about Stratten's character and personality than her Playboy bunny body. However Hemingway did get breast implants to get the role, implants that later would rapture and cause a series of health issues for her.

Hemingway's prior film performance was as Woody's schoolgirl love interest in Manhattan. It is a similar role in that she plays an innocent and trusting waif that slowly comes to maturity and independence by the end of each film, but Manhattan ended on a much more optimistic note than the fatalistic and despairing Star 80. We know even before we see the film what the ending is and as I said the films opens with a blood covered Eric Roberts casting aspersions to the people who drove him to kill Dorothy and reveling in his victory. If he can't have her no one will.

Roberts plays the streetwise hustler Paul Snider who meets Dorothy in a Vancouver B.C. Dairy Queen where she is working the counter. Hemingway convincingly plays a bored girl fresh out of high school who becomes quickly susceptible to Paul's charms and lavish gifts. Less susceptible is Dorothy's mother played by Carol Baker. Her distrust of Snider is immediate and the antagonism between the two characters is palpable at times. After Paul has decided Dorothy is Playboy material there is a great scene where he and Dorothy's mother have a conflict over her signing the papers to allow under aged Dorothy permission to fly to LA and be shot for the spread. She is having none of it but he forges her signature and she is soon at the Playboy Mansion hobnobbing with all the people Paul want to be associated with. It is apparent that he sees Dorothy as his ticket to the life he has always wanted, his chance to move away from his small time deals and hustles and to mingle with the jet set of the late 70's celebrity crowd. He will simply stop at nothing to protect his investment and secure his own road to fame and riches. He soon pressures Dorothy into marriage and is in LA and riding her coattails into the Playboy Mansions where he quickly alienates himself with his crass and aggressive personality.

Among the people concerned about Dorothy is Hugh Hefner, who is played hereby Cliff Robertson. Hefner was so upset by the performance he actually sued Fosse though I myself see nothing negative about the portrayal. She now has made friends and associates and has begun to grow as a person and seeks some independence from Snider's exploitive schemes. Among her new associates is film director Aram Nichols played by Richard Rees and is a less than veiled representation of Dorothy's new lover director Peter Boganovicvh. Boganovich wrote his version of events in the book Death of the Unicorn, and he was sued by Hugh Hefner as well for an unflattering portrayal. Just how noble does Hugh expect himself to appear in film and print? Bogdanovich was crushed and distraught over Stratten's murder, so much so in fact that he essentially began 'caring for' her younger sister Eileen (Lisa Gordon in the film) and would wind up marrying her when she turned twenty years old, the same age as Bogdanovich's daughter.

The final scenes of the movie were shot in the actual house where Stratten was murdered. As Snider sees his chance at the big time slipping away little by little he employs a private eye played by Josh Mostel (son of comedian Zero Mostel) to track her while she is in New York filming with Aram. When it becomes clear she is having am affair his first response is how can he sue Aram and get some money. The matter is seen as a breach of contract almost, but soon his macho ego is shattered and the slimy Paul Snider soon turns into the lethal Paul Snider when he buys a pump action shotgun. Despite her promises to Aram not to see Snider again she stops by for one last meeting, to settle things. She brings some money as a way to sever the partnership and when she turns her nose up at the poster Paul has made, that will outdo Farrah Fawcett's in his opinion,  he is further insulted. Of course no one can really know what happened in the last hours but the event in the film are portrayed in a chilling fashion. As the movie winds down the viewer has become dazed by Dorothy's plight and by Snider's untiring persistence in controlling her up to the very end. While the film shows Snider incapable of having sex with Stratten the facts seem to show she either had consensual sex or was raped by him. She was at some point trussed up a sex device he designed and is shot in the face point blank. Snider would turn the weapon on himself and when their bodies were found hours later in the August heat of Los Angeles they were both covered with swarms of black ants.

The film is often interpreted as showing the dark side of the American dream and what people will do for fame and power. While Snider is obviously the most evil person in the film Hefner and Bogdanovich are felt to be as exploitive of Stratten beauty and naivete as he was. This is explored in the Pulitzer Prize winning article by Teresa Carpenter for the Village Voice. They certainly were not violent men but certainly one has to question their motives as well. There is a lot of stuff on the net and one thing that is not explored in the movie is the very real possibility that Dorothy had slept with Hefner and even other people at the Mansion. I do not know if this is important to the film or the story and film makers always have to bend the truth in one direction or another to make a person's life a watchable film.

I am usually not satisfied when I review a difficult film and in this case I am the most dissatisfied with any review I have ever written, long or short. The movie has struck me in a deep way each time I have seen it (the last time being last night with my wife) and yet I cannot seem to put into words why I am so impacted. It is a fast paced and chilling film and not one that is easy to watch. Even the scene where beautiful Dorothy is shot is brutal, showing the blast impact on her cheek. While a great technical achievement and story it is too bad that Fosse elected to have this grim story be his film directing swansong.


Erin said...

I bought this on DVD for $2 somewhere but haven't watched it yet. I have read about the Dorothy Stratten murder though. I think what disturbs me and makes me put off watching is the idea of Paul Snider not realizing what an awful person he is, why he isn't getting the attention Dorothy is getting when he "discovered" her, to the point that he is so jealous he destroys her. I do love Bob Fosse's Cabaret and All That Jazz, though, and count them among my all time favorites, so that combined with your review makes me finally want to break out Star 80.

Bill D. Courtney said...


Yea, maybe because you got it for two bucks you're thinking it is a bad movie or something, but it is not. I remember back when I sued to buy vinyl, I would go to the cut-out bin, albums with the corner cut to indicate it was a mark down, and buying some albums that would become some of my favorites, like Robert Fripp's Exposure and Robing Trower's Bridge of Sighs.

I found a picture of the actually Paul Snyder and put it up at the bottom of the post and the guy has sleaze ball written all over him. The image looks like somebody doing a parody of a slimy pimp rather than an actual slimy pimp. If you check it out get back and let me know what you think.


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