Star 80’s Star Turn

  • videoarchives
  • November 8, 2022

Pack your bags and get ready to fly from Vancouver to Hollywood, as the Video Archives Podcast tackles Bob Fosse’s true-crime shocker Star 80! Quentin, Roger & Gala devote the entire episode to unpacking Fosse’s intentions, and asking what’s actually true in this adaptation of Teresa Carpenter’s Village Voice story “Death Of A Playmate,” dramatizing the murder of actress and Playboy model Dorothy Stratten. I’ve got VHS boxes and magazine covers to accompany your listen on today’s Counter Talk, so let’s dive in…

This is the first episode of Video Archives to focus on a single film – which wasn’t originally the plan. Before taping, Quentin and Roger had picked a couple other films to include with Star 80 in our usual episode format. But once the episode started, as they began breaking down the successes and failures of the film in detail, bringing in archival reviews and context for Dorothy Stratten’s life and career, we decided this discussion needed to stand alone. The focus on Stratten’s life in particular, and the need for her memory to live on beyond her flawed depiction in Star 80, made this a uniquely moving episode of the show, and one of my favorite episodes we’ve done so far.

If Star 80’s greatest sin is that it pretends to be a film about Dorothy Stratten while actually being a film about her killer, Paul Snider, the cover of the VHS box is emblematic of that sin. It’s a simple close-up of Mariel Hemingway as Stratten, smiling and smelling a flower, emptily capitalizing on Hemingway’s beauty.

All of the official art released for Star 80 focuses on Hemingway’s face in this fashion, and this box isn’t even the worst offender. The Polish Star 80 poster draws Hemingway/Stratten licking her lips, a more salacious choice that abstracts Stratten even further:

The back of the Star 80 box is another essay-style long description from Warner Home Video. It’s right about one thing; the true star of this film is Eric Roberts, giving a slimy, intense performance you can’t tear your eyes from.

Quentin, Roger & Gala do a wonderful job revisiting Stratten’s career in their discussion (and on next week’s After Show), so I won’t rehash it here. I was stunned to learn one fact that didn’t make it into the episode - the climactic sequence of Star 80 was shot in the actual house where Snider murdered Stratten, then killed himself. Did that decision add anything to the final film, beyond enabling Fosse’s morbid fascination with Snider? As Fosse told Roberts, Snider is who Fosse thought he would have become if he wasn’t successful in show business. It’s notable that both of Fosse’s final films, Star 80 and All That Jazz, linger on the death of the character he identified with most. Shooting at the actual site of the murder must have deepened that death drive and sense of identification with Snider, for Fosse if not for his audience.

For this session, Quentin brought out a few magazines from his collection to reference and pull from during the taping. Here’s a copy of the short lived film review magazine “The Movies,” featuring Judith Rossner’s review of Star 80:

And here’s Dorothy Stratten’s Playmate of the Year cover, which Quentin kept on the studio table, as a reminder that there was a real person at the center of this tragic story:

Next week, tune in to the After Show as we continue the conversation with more moments from Quentin & Roger’s Star 80 discussion. In the meantime, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, or join the fan-led Video Archives Facebook and Reddit groups, and weigh in with your thoughts on Star 80. Also, let us know what you thought of today’s single-movie episode format! We’ll be doing episodes like this every so often, when a film demands a long, focused conversation – we’ve already recorded another one of these, and I can’t wait for you all to hear it.

By the way, have you seen our new merch? Here’s Foster from California wearing our new Video Archives Technicolor Logo T-Shirt in Heather Gray.

Thanks for listening, and don’t forget to check out the rest of our new Video Archives holiday merch, and pick up your copy of Cinema Speculation!