director Bob Fosse
Bob Fosse’s Star 80 is the partially fictionalized real life horror story of the life of actress and Playboy Playmate, Dorothy Stratten, played here by Mariel Hemingway. Young, beautiful and naive, Stratten was discovered by her future manager and husband, Paul Snider, at a Dairy Queen in Vancouver. Snider was a sleazy promoter and hustler and pimp, who knew he had found gold in Stratten and quickly got her in the Playboy scene.
Eric Roberts plays Snider with sweaty, sublime sleazeball in a tremendous performance. For all his seedy low-life-ness, Roberts and Fosse also inflect the character with pathos, maybe even verging on the too sympathetic. It certainly gives the portrayal depth.
Snider is the ultimate villain, who quickly finds himself out of his depth in Hollywood. Where he’d hoped to make a big splash, he instead realizes how small-time he is, and more successful Svengalis, Hugh Hefner (played by Cliff Robertson) and Aram Nicholas (in real life Peter Bogdanovich, played here by Roger Rees.)
There are so many villains, and Star 80 envisions (rightly or wrongly) Stratten as only a bit player in her own life due to youth, naivete, and a lack of agency. Though Hefner and Bogdanovich saw more in her and weaned her away from Snider with hopes of opportunity and freedom, their reasons were hardly simple altruism. The film offers a reasonable, if not forceful enough indictment of Hefner and Bogdanovich.
Fosse employs faux documentary style interviews, investing the film with aspects of vérité. He also fills it with a primo period soundtrack (not all “back in the day” music was good.) Being made so close to the event (only 3 years after her death), the styles, bodies, and hair have that natural setting styles, something almost impossible to recreate in retrospective films.
But Snider is a consummate villain, a tiny, miserable man who acted in brutality and selfishness. And Roberts is amazing.
The true life version of the story extends the creepiness of Bogdanovich’s obsession with Stratten and eventually her even younger sister.
Ultimately, Star 80 packs a wallop. It’s a harsh film about a tragic story.