Dorothee Stratten was supposed to be a star. The Vancouver-born model had traveled to Los Angeles on a wing and a prayer. By the late 1970s, things seemed to be turning in his favor at least. In 1979 alone, Stratten starred in fantasy island and Buck Rogers in the 25th century. She was also preparing, at the time, for a major film role: a juicy supporting role in the New Hollywood slapstick homage. They all laughedwhich was to be directed by a Hollywood personality and a male resident of the city Peter Bogdonavich. Had the actress lived long enough to put her talents to good use, who’s to say where she might have ended up?
On August 14, Dorothy Stratten was brutally murdered by her husband, Paul Snider. Snider had successfully lured Stratten out of a Vancouver Dairy Queen with promises of fame and fortune in Tinseltown, only to descend into a toxic obsession when Stratten’s success eclipsed his own. To date, the murder of Dorothy Stratten is one of the most sordid and senseless public crimes to ever take place in Los Angles.
Stratten’s life should were at the center of Star 80the haunting and somewhat problematic final film from this troubled genius of stage and screen, Bob Fosse. In place, Star 80 is much more concerned with Paul Snider, who is portrayed in Fosse’s film by a terrifying Eric Robert, playing the character as a delusional, delusional social reject who is equipped with a porn mustache and a deadly possessive streak. Our world is filled with pathetic specimens like Paul Snider – controlling, jealous monsters who harass, hurt and even kill women when they realize they can’t “get” them – but that doesn’t make Snider’s portrayal in Star 80 less creepy, nor does it answer the troubling question of why exactly Star 80 is presented as more of Snider’s story than Stratten’s.
It’s a testament to Mr. Robert’s performance that we despise Snider from the moment he hits the screen. From the character’s first moments, you want to yell at Stratten to get as far away from this visibly unhinged, hopeless asshole as possible. Curiously, Fosse and actress Mariel Hemingway – who plays Stratten – chose to portray the hapless Playmate and budding starlet as more or less a cipher: a passive participant in her own life. Stratten’s characterization of Fosse sometimes borders on the elliptical. Meanwhile, Roberts’ portrayal is vivid in its villainy: the way the train out of control actor plays Snider, you can smell the desperation and the cheap cologne on the guy from a mile away.
The characters in a Bob Fosse film are never far from sinking into the abyss, whether it’s the amorous entanglement at the center of the best masterpiece of the decade, Cabaret, Lenny Bruce fly in the face of obscenity laws in the comedy world biopic lennyor a narcissistic showman literally confronting his own looming morality in the generation that defines And all that. Yet even by the grim standards normally reserved for Fosse’s work, Star 80 is one of the most unpleasant films ever made by a major American film studio. It’s a film that seems to understand evil – more specifically, a uniquely male form of evil – at a fundamental, even intrinsic level. This is a film that will shake any sensitive viewer, for both intentional and unintended reasons.
The question of “why” hangs over the spectrum of Star 80: Why, exactly, would someone choose to make a film about the murder of Dorothy Stratten, while making the decision to center the point of view of the man who took her life? Even more troubling is Fosse’s alleged claim that he somehow “identified” with Snider, and that this deranged monster may be a version of what Fosse himself might have become if he didn’t. was not established as one of the most respected filmmakers of his time. So what’s the point of making a movie like Star 80whether the filmmakers run the risk of indulging in the same morbid banter that, in the long run, may have contributed to Stratten’s downfall?
The point, in this writer’s view, is to force the viewer to confront their own feelings about how we essentially treat these female ingenues as disposable. Despite its many flaws, Star 80 remains a compelling swan song for Fosse, in large part because she understands America’s toxic addiction to using beautiful women in the entertainment industry. A similar debate currently revolves around at Andrew Dominick Marilyn Monroe biopic Blond, slated to premiere at fall festivals later this year. The question remains: why dredge up the worst things that happened to one of America’s most beloved stars, if the film itself serves no purpose but to drag its subject and all of those were complicit in their torment through the proverbial mud?
Star 80 does not offer easy answers to this question. Calling the film repulsive isn’t decrying it – it’s merely a description. Star 80 wants you, the viewer, to be disgusted. To be sure, that’s the reaction a lot of people got. Vincent Canby, writing for the New York Times, called Star 80 a “unrewarded movie.” Bogdonavich, who is depicted in Star 80 as an arrogant author named Aram Nicholas, felt the film exploited Stratten, insisting that Fosse was only saying part of Dorothy’s story. Certainly, there is no catharsis, no redemption, or even any sort of lesson learned at the end of Star 80: This is the relentlessly ugly story of a woman who was ignominiously engulfed by an industry that is inherently predatory in its nature, who then sought spiritual acceptance at the Playboy Mansion, and ultimately found herself under the thumb of of an abusive freak who took his life before he was of legal drinking age.
Back to the “why” question then: why is this Star 80 a major movie? What does it have to teach us? What’s the point of sitting through the endless horrific scenarios he portrays? I believe the answer lies in the fact that, for those who can stomach this kind of film, Fosse’s final image depicts a strangely mundane form of evil that is directed at women every moment of the day. For better or worse, Hollywood is an ecosystem that thrives on exploitation: it has done so since the early days of the studio system, and sadly, the practice continues today. Movies often sell us a beautiful lie, but just as often it’s imperative to face the truth, no matter how heartbreaking.