Arts & Letters


By John Hospers

Star 80

Star 80 is a product of producer-director Bob Fosse (All That Jazz), who imbues the film with his usual frenetic energy. The scenes flash forward and backward in quick staccato. The treatment of the theme is merciless and telling.

It's the (largely true) story of Dorothy Stratten, a waitress in a Dairy Queen in Vancouver, who is found and pursued by Paul Snider, a would-be entrepreneurial genius in show business who never quite makes it and is constantly inspired by fresh ideas that never pan out. When she outgrows him and wants to separate, he kills her as well as himself.

Mariel Hemingway suppresses her intelligence in this film to play the naive blonde Playboy centerfold. But the film revolves around Snider (played by Eric Roberts), a narcissistic punk, a victim of the male fantasies of being uniquely macho, starting at the top in show business, making quick bucks, and having the kind of life that leaves even Beverly Hills behind. What he fails to see is that his obvious maneuvers in pushing himself upward are immediately seen for what they are, and therefore those whom he tries to cultivate (including Hugh Hefner, played by Cliff Robertson) are merely repelled by him. There is no doubt that he adores and worships the girl, but at the same time he is boundlessly ambitious for himself, insanely suspicious, and devastated at the thought that Stratten might rise in her profession and leave him behind. His uncontrollable rages when he confronts her are the chief source of her alienation from him. In the depiction of this devoted but jealous and vengeful suitor, alternating between affection and fury, Eric Roberts delivers a stunning performance.

For cinematic skill, for never letting the tempo flag for a moment, for the virtuoso performance of Roberts, the film is eminently worth seeing. But the view of reality-show business, Beverly Hills cocktail circuit-is so unsparingly pessimistic and its revelation of the human potential for evil so inescapable, that although many people will justifiably admire the film, not many will like it.

Fanny and Alexander

One of the main functions of fiction, whether narrative or cinematic, is to convey to an audience what it feels like to undergo certain experiences. A few films do this superbly: Devil in the Flesh makes one feel wrenchingly the emotion of ripening adolescent love, together with its accompanying problems; A Place in the Sun evokes with painful vividness the devastation of sudden loneliness and deprivation; East of Eden shows us with unforgettable intensity what it is like to love one's father and be rejected by him.

One of the virtues of the medium of cinema is that, at its best, it can communicate intensely some aspect of the life of human feeling. Most films, however, just present us with the life-situations that generate the feeling, without communicating to us much of the quality of the feeling itself: they aim for the pearl but succeed only in getting the oyster.

Unfortunately Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander belongs largely in the second category. It's about two children growing up in a fairly wealthy Swedish household in the early 20th century. All the external trappings are there, but the gut-level communication of feeling is missing. Once in a while it comes close: when the boy is whipped by his new stepfather, then made to apologize, then forced to assent to its all having been done out of love, the viewer's empathy is at its maximum. But most of the time the viewer is confronted merely with Christmas parties and family trysts and confrontations while the children merely watch wide-eyed at these strange adult goings-on. No particular insight is absorbed, nor is the viewer any the wiser for seeing any of it.

Yet Bergman can do it. There are scenes of great empathetic effectiveness in The Virgin Spring, Wild Strawberries, and Autumn Sonata. He is a master at exploring the interior life, particularly of tormented individuals. But in the new film there is simply panorama and pageantry, with an occasional philosophical aside, with very little communication of genuine feeling in any of it. One deserves more from a film that lasts over three hours.

Sudden Impact

Clint Eastwood's Sudden Impact is a continuation of the Dirty Harry series, and in the same vein, only gorier than its predecessors. There's no doubt that Eastwood cuts a striking figure as the honest and conscientious cop who resents seeing killers go free through various technicalities. What he does goes beyond what the Police Department permits, yet it brings vicious men to justice, and it does it with verve combined with moral indignation at the perpetrators.

The moral problem posed by the film is, Under what circumstances should people take the law into their own hands? The liberal press says, "Never," and for this reason it has unanimously berated this film. Yet if a killer threatened them, would they not take action? ("A conservative is a liberal who's just been mugged.") Eastwood at least is a cop, authorized to track down and arrest felons, even if he stretches the rules in doing so. But his friend (Sondra Locke) is on a crusade of pure vendetta: the rape of her sister 10 years before has put the girl in a mental hospital for life, and Sondra takes it on herself to track down the rapists, which she does with cold and deadly efficiency.

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