Ask The Critic

'Star' Bright

The greatest modern American film that has never truly been recognized is Bob Fosse's ''Star 80.'' Back in 1983, the tale of Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten (Mariel Hemingway) and her grisly demise was denounced with a moralistic savagery. (Pauline Kael: ''Fosse shows us skin and sleaze from fancy camera angles...the movie is nauseated by itself.'') Yet what raised the critics' ire was precisely what made the film visionary: the shocking depth of Fosse's identification with Paul Snider, the slimy, starstruck hustler who turned Stratten into a pinup idol. Eric Roberts, with a wounded animal intensity comparable to Brando's, plays Snider as a jealous, paranoid pimp, yet he's the scandalous essence of what the film's slicker exploiters (like Hugh Hefner) deny: their compulsion to rule over women's beauty -- to pin them like butterflies. ''Star 80 foresaw'' the pornographication of American life, and in that sense the critics who killed the movie were killing the messenger.

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Originally posted Nov 07, 2003 Published in issue #736 Nov 07, 2003 Order article reprints