Slime After Slime

Star 80; Written and Directed by Bob Fosse; Ladd Company/Warner Brothers.

by Stephen Macaulay

An ad for Star 80 claims that it is considered “One of the Year’s [1983] Ten Best” by a number of people who should know; lest anyone have doubts, the claimants are listed. One man, apparently, just couldn’t say it enough; Gene Siskel appears in second place, behind the modern oracle, Time magazine, for his At the Movies TV show (film reviews for people who don’t like to read), and in third place for his column in the Chicago Tribune (ditto—and Rupert Murdoch owns the other Chicago paper). From New York (WABC-TV) to Toronto (the Sun and the Globe & Mail) to San Diego (Tribune), cinematic sleaze is hailed as being noteworthy. The reviewers undoubtedly spend their off hours kicking over rotting logs in the woods in order to see what lurks beneath and writing paeans to sewage treatment plants.

Star 80 is a rendering of a true story, one about a teenage girl from Vancouver, British Columbia, who was “discovered” by a greasy pimp-like character while she was pumping ice cream cones in a Dairy Queen. Perhaps the man, who spent much of his time in the dark while surrounded by pictures of “stars,” evoked a feeling of kindredness within the movie reviewers, which accounts for their praise of the project. The female is presented as being as pure as driven ice milk throughout the cretinous saga, notwithstanding the fact that early on, after but a few dates, momma’s little girl (36-24-36) poses for Polaroids in the bedroom of the swain with the filthy mustache. The goal of the cheesy two-bit operator is a lofty one—at least from an insect’s point of view: to get her snapshots into the pages of Playboy. It happens. She happens. He doesn’t happen. He doesn’t like that. Being, as he is, mentally unstable, he really doesn’t like it (“But I’ve grown,” she tells him, while phoning from the suite of her new boyfriend, a movie director who is going to “make her a star”—sounds familiar.) Eventually, the spurned mental midget takes a shotgun to the skull of the former Playmate of the Year. Since that can only happen once, at the end of the story, Bob Fosse decided that he’d take advantage of the bloody mess and drag it throughout the entire movie by cutting in teasing segments, sort of like a stripper dropping a glove here, a shoe there. Perhaps realizing that he might be considered too much of a “downer,” Fosse overcompensated by showing still photos of the Playmate’s anatomy over and over and over again. (I wonder: which did Siskel find to be the most notable?) Of course, once the film draws to a dose, the whole savage act is shown with all of the attendant gore. Moreover, the death of the girl/woman is topped by the creep taking said shotgun to his own forehead for the grand finale. Lest anyone miss anything, an overhead shot of the remains provide the whole layout. If this constitutes “One of the Year’s Ten Best,” then the reviewers in question must be excited beyond belief when they visit their local butcher.

The slick, sick operator is shown as being the villain. The female object is simply a naïf. The hero—hold on—is none other than Hugh Hefner—”Hef” to his pals, “Mr. Hefner” to young women with large busts. The hero tries to counsel the naïf away from the operator and into what he calls the bosom of “the Playboy family.” Had she only but listened … is the message of Star 80.

Playboy, of course, exists only to pander to the hormones of men who require no further excitation. It and like magazines spout bosh about “freedom.” There’s strong evidence that points to the stark fact that as long as these magazines exist, some disgusting acts of violence will be engendered by their very existence. It would be an act of ignorance to maintain that rags like Playboy will disappear and be replaced by more “wholesome” gazing material. Not even a nuclear war would bleach the stains away. However, if there was less public attention to matters concerning the sex organs of both females and males, if what was once considered a “private” matter could be treated as such, chances are there would be fewer murders, rapes, cases of venereal disease, etc. The odds of that happening, I’m afraid, aren’t worth betting on. Consider Star 80: it was an actual event, the subject of the story in the Village Voice (which served as the basis of the film), a TV movie, the grist for an “important” director’s mill. And, of course, “One of the Year’s Ten Best.”


Sense & Sensibility

Broadway Danny Rose; Written and Directed by Woody Allen; Orion Pictures.

The last time we saw Allen (Zelig; Chronicles of Culture; January 1984, p. 40 ), we suspected that he was on his way to finally, firmly establishing himself on the cultural landscape as a comedian in the more ancient sense (as opposed to the sitcom sense), that is, as a writer/ director/actor who, through the use of common characters, makes amusing but telling statements about the status quo. Overtly, it doesn’t come to pass in Broadway Danny Rose, the story of a hapless, Woody Allenesque theatrical manager who, because of who he is, has acts like a blind xylophone player and a ventriloquist with a stutter. Had the protagonists in Take the Money and Run or Play It Again Sam or any of the others gone into that line of work 1 their properties would be akin. This isn’t progress. But it isn’t regression, either. It is simply another chapter in the Allen oeuvre. However, when Allen’s new contribution is compared to the various and sundry vulgarities that are oozing on the screens at a theater near you (and sometimes off the screens, via 3-D glasses), his simple love story, flimsy though it may be shows how rapidly we are descending into sociocultural morass. Yet it holds out hope. Maybe next time. (SM)



Splash; Directed by Ron Howard; Screenplay by Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel, and Bruce Jay Friedman; Touchstone Films.

Once, Julie Andrews was Mary Poppins for Walt Disney Studios. Later, she updated her vocabulary with expletives and bared vast portions of her anatomy for the cameras of others. Sex over chastity. Once, Don Knotts starred in a movie for kids called The Incredible Mr. Limpet in which he, through animation, played a dolphin that aids the U.S. Navy. Later, he took the role of a man concerned only with his glands on TV’s Three’s Company. Sex over fantasy. Once, Disney made movies like Fantasia. Once, young Ron Howard worked with a likeable Don Knotts on a civilized TV show. Later, Disney created Touchstone Films; Howard, older, directed a movie (for another company) about love in a morgue. Touchstone hired Howard to direct a non-G rated movie, Splash. Sex into Disney. Who says that things are not progressing and improving?

Splashis noticeable only inasmuch as it is the first non-Disney Disney movie. I suppose that its proponents would say that the film is more “authentic” or “realistic” than the chaste Disney fare, but I can’t imagine what can be construed as “true” or “real” about a New Yorker’s sexual escapades with a female semifish. What is presumably “adult” is actually quite childish. If any extended amount of time is spent thinking about Splash, then the whole project takes on a characteristic of aged seafood. (SM)



The Dresser; Directed by Peter Yates; Screenplay by Ronald Harwood; Columbia Pictures.

While it is banal to say that the human condition has never been more acutely yet universally limned through the medium of the English language by anyone better than William Shakespeare, it is true and, given the bulk of the texts produced today, worth repeating. A passage from his Macbeth hovers around The Dresser, which has been convincingly transformed from the Broadway boards to film reels by Peter Yates:


Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more.


All of us, no matter who we are or what we do, are a part of the grand performance; we, for our time, play a role, and are then hidden away in our shrouds, are eclipsed by the curtain. Of course, the theater is no more than a metaphor for virtually everyone except a few, such as those who devote their lives to the speaking, feeling, and perhaps even being the Bard’s lines.

The Dresseris a scene from such a life, the final scene of the last act of a player known simply as “Sir,” a man who was recognized at some point during the first half of this century by his kingdom for making a contribution to its culture by devoting his life to trodding the stage as Lear, Othello, and the rest. A noble undertaking. But what happens to such a man when the climactic moment comes to be, when a physical debilitation—perhaps a stroke—takes hold of the body while the mind and soul are infused with Bardic images? What, more to the point of the film’s title, are the lives like of the minor characters, the low ones, the fools, the little names listed in the dramatis personae; what happens, what do they sense, when the booking has run its course? The quotidian requirements and the physical and metaphysical environments of the actor and his dresser are certainly different than those of the rest of us paltry players, but the poignancy they experience is something that we all partake of during our runs. (SM)


Daydreams & Reflections

Fanny and Alexander; Written and Directed by Ingmar Bergman; Embassy Pictures.

The spirits of three authors, two passed and one quick, hover over and glide through Fanny and Alexander. Most substantially, or materially, there’s Balzac, whose bountious physicality provides the texture of the Ekdahl family’s life; they could slip beyond the margins and into Comédie humaine with ease. If the outward aspects come from that source, then the lower and superior layers of life, or existence in a more metaphysical sense, may be traced to Isaac Bashevis Singer, the man who was trained in mysteries at the Tachkemoni Rabbinical Seminary, but who wove the threads of a more public—yet no less secret—material in his stories. Finally, there is the writer who looms over all writers in our day and even in the days that passed before his: Shakespeare. It’s not the obvious scripter of Hamlet but the encoder of the more wondrous The Tempest—though not the fairy tale, but the words and tropes and images of a life in the theater coming to a close. To be sure, the grandeur of bourgeois civilization, which Bergman seems to defend (a puzzlement engendered by his coyness), is tempered in Fanny and Alexander, shown as it is during its most nonconformist era: the twilight days of bohemian sophistication. Consequently, Bergman’s metaphysics are endowed with an expressionism based on the bizarre which, through its dislocations, dulls the edge of the conflict then existing between ‘the ossifying and receding Swedish Protestantism and the aborning attitudes and perceptions of the modern artist. Fanny and Alexander is, its creator said, to be his last film. As a capstone on an obelisk that was some 40 years in the making, it is fitting. (SM)