STAR 80 – 1983. Dir. Bob Fosse. With Eric Roberts, Mariel Hemingway, Carroll Baker, and Cliff Robertson
In STAR 80 Bob Fosse chronicles the true story of the short rise and fall of Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten. She was the embodiment of a Playmate: wholesome, naive, and the perfect girl next door. Mariel Hemingway (granddaughter of Ernest) plays Stratten and Eric Roberts, in a star making performance, portrays Dorothy’s boyfriend turned husband Paul Snider who kills Dorothy (I didn’t spoil anything, it’s told to you in the opening). Snider is a self obsessed small time hustler who is always looking for the perfect opportunity to strike it big. Snider accidentally stumbles upon Stratten while she’s working at a Dairy Queen in Vancouver and it’s love at first sight for Snider. Their relationship soon blossoms as Snider spoils Stratten with attention and lavish gifts. Snider then begins taking nude pictures of Dorothy, and sends them to Playboy. Dorothy is soon after summoned to the Mansion but there’s one road block – her Mother (played to perfection by Carroll Baker). Snider pleads with Mrs. Stratten to allow her daughter to travel to the Playboy Mansion and become a Playmate. She refuses, because she can see through Snider’s phoniness. She knows that Snider’s love for her daughter is more opportunity than real love. The film has interviews with characters from the film, chronicling Dorothy and
Snider’s life (as Fosse previously did in LENNY) and the film cross cuts between Dorothy’s story and to current time where we see Snider naked in their bedroom covered in blood. The film itself is edited much like ALL THAT JAZZ with Alan Heim returning as Fosse’s editor. The film is a pleasant mixture with the way it flows between ALL THAT JAZZ and LENNY. The murder scene consists of Snider speaking a monologue of contempt, self loathing, hatred and jealously of Dorothy’s stardom. It’s very Shakespearian the way the film allows Roberts to convey his emotions to the audience, allowing him the inner dialogue with the audience while he stands alone, bloody and naked in the room he murdered Dorothy in. It reminded me much of Richard III or Iago’s sadistic monologue from OTHELLO.
Eric Roberts brings down the house in this film.
STAR 80 is a true story, some events and characters are slightly fictionalized which gave the studio a blanket to help prevent a lawsuit, which didn’t stop Hugh Hefner from suing for deformation of character. Veteran actor Cliff Robertson (Uncle Ben from Raimi’s
Spiderman franchise) plays Hugh Hefner. Robertson doesn’t necessarily look like Hefner, but his mannerisms and delivery tricks you into thinking it really is Hefner. The way Hefner is portrayed is that of a father figure, yet he’s just as much of an opportunist as Snider. Fosse explores, as he did in LENNY and ALL THAT JAZZ, the dark side of show business and humanity. He glamorizes it to a certain extent, but the pitfalls that are shown bring the film to a much darker and deeper emotional feel.
As Dorothy expands her horizons with Playboy and films, Snider begins to be left in the dust. He’s Dorothy’s self proclaimed manager and is sucking money from her to buy cars, houses and other materialistic items. He buys a vanity license plate for their new car entitled: Star 80. Snider is convinced that he and Dorothy is the new power couple and proposes marriage to Dorothy. Hefner is skeptical of Snider and sees him as a low level pimp and hustler and warns Dorothy about him and his intentions. As Dorothy’s star rises, Snider is convinced that he is rising along with her – until he realizes that he’s not ascending with Dorothy and he begins to become jaded and bitter.
Dorothy’s huge break comes from film director Aram Nicholas (who is a fictionalized version of Peter Bogdanovich director of THE LAST PICTURE SHOW and PAPER MOON) who is played by Roger Rees. As Dorothy spends more time in New York with Aram and less time with Paul who’s still in LA, she begins to see things more clearly. She is sucked in by Aram’s thoughtfulness, charm and attention. She begins to drift closer to Aram and further away from Paul. Paul begins to suspect something is amiss, and hires a private investigator and buys a gun. The way Bogdanovich is displayed in the film is much like Hefner and Snider. They are sweet men at first, and then they begin to manipulate Dorothy for their benefit and personal gain. Quick note: Bogdanovich was dating Dorothy at the time of her death, and then proceeded to marry Dorothy’s younger sister (of whom was 29 years younger than Bogdanovich) after Dorothy’s death. This is the main reason that caused the fast decline of Bogdanovich’s career.
Dorothy leaves Paul and moves in with Aram. She files for divorce and Aram begs Dorothy not to see Paul anymore. She agrees, but gets sucked back in and goes to see Paul one last time to propose him half of everything she’s worth so they can finalize their divorce. Dorothy returns to her old home with Paul, and the entire home is covered in pictures of Paul and Dorothy. Paul is at his weakest and most vulnerable point. He begins to beg Dorothy not to leave him, he threatens to kill himself (as I watched this scene, do we all think this when we are at our weakest?) and Dorothy begins to feel sorry for him, she touches him and he pushes her. He becomes spiteful and angry and yells at Dorothy with envious anger. The bedroom in the film that is the scene of Dorothy’s death is that actual bedroom she was murdered in.
It’s interesting how the film is structured; it’s almost as if Snider is the lead character. During my research of the film, I found an interview with Eric Roberts where he stated that Fosse told him that he decided to make Snider the main focus of the film, because if Fosse himself wouldn’t have become famous – he would have become Paul Snider. Damn Fosse – that’s honesty!
The climax of the film is much like ALL THAT JAZZ, but where as climax is a beautiful sadness; STAR 80’s is graphically violent and disturbing. This film should have been nominated across the board. Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay (Bob Fosse for basing his film on Theresa Carpenter’s “Death of a Playmate” article), Best Actor: Eric Roberts, Actress: Mariel Hemmingway, Best Supporting: Cliff Robertson and Carroll Baker, and Alan Heim for Best Achievement in Editing. This was Bob Fosse’s follow up to ALL THAT JAZZ and his final film. ALL THAT JAZZ will always remain as Fosse’s masterpiece and as a filmmaker Fosse never had one misstep, and STAR 80 is my new staple for a filmmaker’s swan song. What makes this film even more interesting is that Fosse and Hefner were friends in real life, and there was a rumored love triangle between Fosse, Hefner and Stratten. As I said earlier Hefner sued for the way he was portrayed in the film. This film banished Fosse and Hefner’s friendship.
What I love about Bob Fosse is that he just doesn’t give a fuck.