Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Star 80

Whether as a dancer, choreographer, theater or film director, Bob Fosse spent his life on the stage, and he always had a fascination for what makes people like him tick: how the narcotic of stardom enters the bloodstream, takes over, and turns you inside out, whether it's Sally Bowles in Cabaret or his own addictive self in All That Jazz, a brutal if somewhat narcissistic self-portrait.

With what would turn out to be his last film, Star 80, Fosse found a subject right up his alley: the true story of Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratton, who was discovered and molded by a sleazy boyfriend, Paul Snider, who hoped to use her as a meal ticket to the good life he'd always dreamed of -- a dream that would lead to a vicious murder-suicide.

Fosse's story is equal parts Dorothy and Paul, perfectly played by Mariel Hemingway and Eric Roberts. The Dorothy we see here is a naive girl from Vancouver who is as beautiful as she is naive, easily impressed by a hustler who is willing to shower her with money and smooth talk, and who tends to believe the best about people, even when they're exploiting her.

The real star of the film is Eric Roberts, whom people completely forgot about when his little sister made it big. Looking like Clark Gable after drinking a pint of motor oil, he's a greaseball Gatsby: the kind of petty small-town loser who has dreamed of celebrity his entire life, believed that if he just said the right things to the right people at the right time he could make it, too, who never looks slimier than when he's trying to look cool.

What really gets you, though, is his anguish and rage, popping out like the veins on his forehead, at realizing not only that he can't continue leeching off Dorothy forever but that he has absolutely nothing of his own to offer. Dorothy has no discernible talent as an actress, but she's uniquely beautiful in a town that feeds on beauty; Snider, by contrast, wants everything the town has to offer and has nothing to feed it but Dorothy.

The movie got a lot of notice when it first came out, as the events of the tabloid story were still fresh in everyone's memory, and Mariel Hemingway rather famously got a boob job to land the role. It's not a movie people much discuss, though, maybe because it's like some bad dream you don't mind forgetting. Warner Home Video doesn't seem to give a rip about it, either, as the DVD I watched is a purely functional thing released in standard format with no extras or packaging or, given the graininess of the image, much care.

It remains one of the darkest, most disturbing films of the decade: a great film about, among other things, resentment, the murderous kind that is part of the price of pursuing the American Dream on the cheap.

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