STAR 80 – 1983 Dir. Bob Fosse.

“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

Eric Roberts as Paul Snider, hissing his dirty feelings to himself.

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

Mariel Hemingway and Cliff Robertson.

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.

Roger Rees as Aram Nicholas the fictionalized Peter Bogdanovich.

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.

Review: 9/10

Author: Frank Mengarelli

Everybody relax, Frank's here. After going to film school at Columbia College Chicago, Frank decided to underachieve with his vast knowledge of film into a career in civil service. Frank had a brief stint as a film blogger, and then he met the heterosexual love of his life, Nick Clement. The two instantly bonded over their love from everything to Terence Malick to THE EXPENDABLES films. Some of Frank's favorite filmmakers are Terence Malick, Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Sylvester Stallone, Oliver Stone and Spike Lee. Some of his favorite films are THE TREE OF LIFE, STAR WARS (all of them), BAD LIEUTENANT, THE THING and ALL THAT JAZZ. Frank spends his free time with his dog Roger, collecting any Star Wars collectible he can find and trying to finish his pretentious, first person narrative novel(la), LARGE MEN IN SMALL CARS..

2 thoughts on “STAR 80 – 1983 Dir. Bob Fosse.”

  1. Hi, Frank…love this review of “Star 80” and your blog in general. This might sound strange, but “Star 80” is one of my favorite movies, despite the fact that it is based on a horrible tragedy. Bob Fosse was a genius. We will probably never have a director/producer/choreographer like him again in this lifetime.

    I agree completely…Eric Roberts was the shit in this movie! He was (and still is) one of the most brilliant actors, hands down. No one else could play Paul Snider as convincingly as he could. The real Snider was less physically attractive than Eric, of course, but I think Eric played him with such intensity that you lose yourself in what he might have felt about Dorothy, about himself, and about life. Eric was robbed of the Oscar he should have received for “Star 80”.

    To me, Mariel Hemingway doesn’t quite cut it as Dorothy Stratten but I still think she did a fine job. If Charlize Theron had been the right age in 1983, I could definitely see her as Dorothy in “Star 80” because she has the beauty and the presence to play that part. Charlize has both the face and figure, as well as the Dutch background. Mariel was somewhat attractive in her own way and she portrays Dorothy’s innocence very well, but come on…Dorothy was a certified bombshell. She was the kind of girl that could stop traffic with her looks. Mariel, while pretty, isn’t what most people would call strikingly beautiful. But I guess that Mariel was one of the few women (at that time) whom Fosse deemed suitable to play Dorothy because she embodied the essence of Dorothy’s character.

    That’s interesting, the rumor about Fosse/Hefner/Stratten. I never knew that Fosse had ever met Dorothy Stratten. I definitely know that Hefner disliked how he was portrayed in “Star 80” and he was also unhappy with the way Peter Bogdanovich blamed him for Dorothy’s death. I didn’t see anything wrong with how he was portrayed in the film, but maybe he wanted to distance himself from further bad publicity. I would say that for me, the most unbelievable character was the “Aram Nicholas” fellow (played by Roger Rees). No disrespect to him, he’s a fine actor, but in real life he is gay and his relationship with Dorothy in the movie seems very lukewarm. I just couldn’t take their affair seriously. And I know it sounds shallow, but who would leave a hottie like Eric freaking Roberts (even if he does play a killer) for a far less attractive and not-charismatic man? I know that the real Dorothy was a confused young woman who felt controlled by her husband, but Peter Bogdanovich really wasn’t much better.

    Now onto your other points…yes, I recall Eric saying that Fosse told him that about Snider’s character. I wish Dorothy had been given a bit more depth, but I enjoyed the film from Snider’s perspective. It is definitely food for thought. It makes you wonder, what happened to make him that way? In Dorothy’s case, I can see why she wound up in bad relationships. But on Snider’s end, you have to wonder what his deal was. Could he be lashing out at society because of a painful childhood? Was it drug abuse? Some type of mental illness? Did he hate everyone or simply those that rejected him? What was his relationship with his family back in Canada? And more importantly, did he love Dorothy beyond what she could do for him in terms of fame and fortune? These are all questions that haunt me. I have even read things from people who claim that Paul was bisexual but unable to accept that side of himself, so he turned his anger inwards. I doubt that’s true, but I guess it’s possible. Eric was terrifying in his portrayal of Paul because he forces you to see him as human, not just this evil monster who murdered his wife. He forces you to look into the darkness of Paul’s psyche and see not only the rage, but the pain also.

    Paul Snider has often been demonized (and with good reason, because he committed an atrocity)…but I think Fosse was right to show us that we are all complex beings and that we rarely admit that everyone has issues. Paul Snider was a pimp, he was sleazy, he was dirty, and he became infamous for what he did to Dorothy. But I think Fosse was reminding viewers that there was still a person under there who was in a great deal of pain and he didn’t know how to express that suffering in more constructive ways. I think Paul was mad at the world but he was also mad at himself for not being able to succeed in life, constantly feeling insecure deep down and needing acceptance. I used to hate him too, and I still do because nothing justifies the hurt he caused Dorothy’s family, but now I understand him a bit more.

  2. I’ve only JUST discovered your blog and I’m enjoying the reading. But you should know that Mariel Hemingway was Ernest Hemingway’s granddaughter, not his daughter. She was amazing in this role.

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