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  • Benjamin May

White Star (1983) Review

It is the early 1980's, and Ken Barlow is a has-been music producer eking out a living in Berlin. Barlow was once somebody, aeons ago he managed The Rolling Stones (or so he says). Now, he has few prospects, throwing his lot in with an up-and-coming New Waver by the name of Moody Mudinsky. Barlow believes Mudinsky is the future- or says he does, anyway- and the weathered producer is determined that the kid make it big- at any cost. In order to gain publicity, Barlow goes down a dangerous road, staging riots and other violent stunts that leave him ever-circling the rim of career-ending oblivion, as well as threatening to derail Mudinsky's career before it even takes off.

Roland Klick's 'White Star' is a muddled, hectic joyride of a movie. Klick's screenplay- written with Thilo von Arnim and Karen Jaehne-Lathan- lacks interesting characters, natural dialogue or any memorable scenes to speak of. On top of that, the writers don't seem to have spent any time in the music industry, as their work is hollow and based on caricature, reflecting a lack of knowledge- or a lack of interest- about the subject matter. It is an underwhelming melodrama masquerading as a gritty slice of life, full of overblown sequences that are so inept and camp one may think the film is a parody, like some kind of 'Spinal Tap' for the Punk Rockers. It isn't though, and the narrative's mediocrity is frankly close to unbearable at times.

On the plus side, Jürgen Jürges' cinematography is striking. He captures the decrepitude of the Berlin streets with real panache and style, highlighting the seedy underbelly of the town masterfully. His naturalistic work was similarly effective in films like 'Christiane F' and 'The Last Days Of Childhood' at showcasing the cold reality of the German landscape of that time. It is unostentatious work that lingers long in the mind after the credits have rolled- in fact, it surpasses the film itself in terms of quality and memorability.

The same can be said about star Dennis Hopper's performance as Barlow. As is well-documented, for a time, Hopper was essentially living in a world of his own. Fuelled by copious amounts of drugs and alcohol, he spent decades in a narcotic stupor; making films and acting to varying degrees of quality and levels of coherence. For every great film like Wim Wender's 'The American Friend', that benefitted from his drug-addled improvisations, there were lesser films that didn't, the impact of which he hampered by overacting and going off script. Then, there were the truly uninspired movies that had very little to offer in the first place but another wild Hopper performance; 'White Star' falls into this third category.

As Barlow, Hopper is like a simmering pot of water on a rickety stove: you feel at any moment all hell could break loose. As in 'Apocalypse Now' or the aforementioned Wender's flick, much of Hopper's dialogue was improvised, which in this case helps the film immensely. His wacky, train-of thought monologues make the film entertaining, while his crazed appearance and over-the-top demeanour make his character worth spending time with. Barlow the character is dull as written, but Barlow as played by Dennis Hopper is a madcap, marvellous cinematic creation.

The performances from the supporting cast are less laudable. Terrance Robay plays Moody Mudinsky, and gives a performance so wooden you'd swear he was carved out of balsa. That he never acted in another film is a testament to his abilities on screen; which are nil. David Hess has a small role he tries to make the most of, though the character is severely underwritten; and in the end of the day there's little he can do with it. The rest of the cast aren't worth speaking about, as they leave no impression whatsoever- good or bad; which is almost worse.

'White Star' is not a successful film by any means: the script is awful, the direction is lazy and the soundtrack is so boring as to be unmentionable. For all the narrative's noise, riots and violence; it's simply rather dull. However, it's also not a travesty, due practically entirely to star Dennis Hopper's performance, which is wildly entertaining and captivating in its' intensity. Even with the joys of Hopper though, the film is mediocre and ultimately apt for a line from Shakespeare: 'White Star' is "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."


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