Review of Madelyn Ritrosky and Terri Farley-Teruel’s Stardust & Moonbeams

Developmentally Edited by Jessica Gibbons
Copy Edited and Posted by Megan Elias

This review is part of a double feature on the short film Stardust & Moonbeams. For more take a look at Jared D. Milburn’s interview with screenwriter Madelyn Ritrosky, director Terri Farley-Teruel, and producer Kalynn Huffman Brower of Stardust & Moonbeams.

Stardust & Moonbeams (2017). 17 mins. Directed by Terri Farley-Teruel. Written by Madelyn Ritrosky. Featuring Abby White, Brad Meyer, Jared Winslow, Moli Hall, Ian Sargent Phillips, and Emily Lantz.

The first thing that stood out to me in Stardust & Moonbeams was actually the title. How could anyone not be interested in Stardust, the concept itself, and/or the possibility of Moonbeams? Let alone them together—being a Space and Star “insert various time/space/war/place adjectives” enthusiast, I was all in.

But the film was neither of those. We venture far from the galactic fiction voyages we’ve all come to love to something a lot more personal and dynamic in the history of our present day society. And as far as an experience, it was much more.

The film, set in the 1920s during the Jazz Age, opens with a beautifully elegant title sequence that is reminiscent of the 20th century Fox logo—although quite a bit cleaner (lol)—then builds the energy of the scene with an upbeat bop from the era.

We then see our two main characters Beth and Will, played by Abby White and Brad Meyer, standing in a photo gallery observing some of the pieces. We find out that they are a young modern married couple, possibly in their late 20s, dapperly dressed, inspired by art and time as they peruse the Stardust & Moonbeams nude photo exhibit.

Beth mentions that the art in the gallery are all photos and illustrations of women, yet through the eyes of men. To Beth, they are just different photos of the same intentions. She sees the exhibit as a continual reflection of men’s primal nature that indulges in their personal takes on beauty standards for women. Society may call it art, but to Beth, what the galleries tend to show is all the same. She wanted more than that. Will reluctantly agrees with her train of thought. He seems to be more of a traditional artist and insists that there is beauty in the illustrations and that art can be translated through pictures…even the nudes. To Will, Beth is his muse, so he wants to give that style of photography a try.

But it had to have a deeper meaning than simply a nude photo. There needed to be purpose and thought provocation; Beth wants to change the idea of how people look at art. She wants it to be sexy, but with meaning behind it. That’s when they come up with the perfect idea: they’ll take the pictures of each other.

Let’s just say it moves to the bedroom from here.

You can get a feel from the couple that this entire process is new. We definitely feel the anxieties of them trying something out of their comfort zones—it’s controversial, it’s normality, it’s creating “class” out of something seen as filth. We are watching them, in all their complexities, use art to humanize themselves.

The modeling was inherently sexual, given that Will was shirtless and Beth needed him to pull his pajamas down just a little more to his…waist. And we have the perfect fly on the wall type of view. Will had his pajamas tied up higher than his navel. Playing innocent, I guess. The camera is static, but does a great job of letting the talent pull us into the scene.

I found their interactions incredibly interesting and found myself giggling as they both broke through some of their insecurities—all in an attempt to get the perfect image.

Stardust & Moonbeams is definitely political. We get a deep dive into the mind of an artist and human intent on making a difference in a community that acknowledges you through a singular lens.  

The film even touches on Planned Parenthood, with Beth’s main occupation advocating for better women’s health practices. Given that it’s the 1920s and the organization’s just beginning to take root, these conversations are groundbreaking. Especially since birth control and women’s health to this very day are still seen as controversial. But if not just that, what Beth and her husband Will do next most definitely would be.  

There is a scene where we see Beth interacting with a older form of contraception. I’m not sure what the rates of contraceptive use were in the 1920s, nor the level of stigmas behind their uses or those of visiting then creating your own nude photo gallery. But what I do know is that type of progression comes with a lot of risk. I’m sure Will had some concerns, but Beth had her livelihood at stake.

The film paints a world where image is everything—and to fight against the grain would mean to risk your life, status, marriage, home, and sustainability.

The film doesn’t end there, but it rises as relatives and friends of the family come over to visit Beth and Will’s home. Turns out they were planning a surprise showing of their new work, and the conversations they have are just lovely.

I can’t wait for you to watch this movie.

Stardust & Moonbeams looks beautiful. It has a color tone slightly saturated, so you’re able to get that “vintage” feel of the piece combined with the lighting of a fantasy novel. The music also works well; it fits every section of the film from whimsical, to slightly anxious, to warm—all in that sonically pleasing, lofi Steamboat Mickey vibe that type of music tends to give you.

For the most part, Stardust & Moonbeams seems to have been shot in about two or three locations, and that’s all they really needed to bring the story to life. The set feels authentic, as if the film itself could be a further extension of the gallery. Next thing I knew, I was sunk in the characters’ dialogue. The conversations were a fun dynamic to behold; as you take part in the characters’ banter, you get a real sense of what their lives are like. When the film ended, I felt impressed with the short number of scenes yet the fullness of content, credit to Nancy Schreiber’s cinematography, Ritrosky’s writing, and Terri Farley-Teruel’s direction. As a fellow filmmaker, it shows how much you can do with limited space.

So maybe Stardust & Moonbeams isn’t a sci-fi drama, but an insight into a revolutionary approach to thinking from a not so distant universe. I was impressed by the communal discussion Beth, Will, and their friends have at their home. This was a group of “modern” ‘20s Americans flirting with the idea of women controlling their image. Not just politically or family-oriented, but something a bit more personal—their sexuality. Beth risks her career and societal acceptance to tell a bigger story: if you can’t get the world to listen, maybe you can get them to look for just a moment or two and think. And then maybe to appreciate more about humans than just their genitals.

It may have been a long shot given the time period, but Beth wanted to reintroduce women to a different perspective: their own—and to further that a “man” didn’t have to be their only hope.

You can learn more about the Stardust and Moonbeams on the film’s websiteFacebook, Twitter, and IMDB. Learn more about Jared by visiting his profile.