Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story

Directed by Todd Haynes
Starring A bunch of Barbie dolls

In a sense, Superstar, is like a modern day Nosferatu. Neither are supposed to exist. Like Nosferatu, Superstar was made without getting the proper licenses. And as a result of a lawsuit brought about by Richard Carpenter, all copies of Superstar were ordered destroyed. But now it lives and thrives on the internet, both on bit torrent sites and YouTube (last I checked).

If you have heard anything about Superstar, you have probably heard that it was filmed using modified Barbie dolls, and that is pretty much accurate. Also the film utilizes live action re-enactments, and stock footage of subjects contemporary to the Carpenters time, such as Nixon, and the Vietnam war.

But also, crucially, the film makes liberal use of the Carpenters music catalog. Which help ground the film in its pseudo-documentary style. It also was instrumental with getting the film yanked from circulation, and ordered destroyed, courtesy of Richard Carpenter.

There is pretty much nothing revealed in the film that cannot be gleaned from a quick glance at wikipedia. Karen Carpenter suffered from anorexia, and it led to her death. In the meantime, she was one-half of the superstar duo known as the Carpenters, and her death was mourned the world over, by shocked fans.

Directed by Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine, Far From Heaven), Superstar kicks off with a first person point-of-view shot of her mom finding Karen collapsed on the floor. This sets the tone for the rest of the movie. It is unrelentingly gloomy, which puts it into sharp contrast with the saccharine sweet pop hits that the Carpenters were known for.

From there we see the life of Karen as she achieves superstardom via the Carpenters, and all the while struggles with her eating disorder, which by some accounts was kicked of by her reaction to a concert review published in a Philadelphia newspaper, which called her "chubby". At any rate, as she continues down the road of life, the scenes are intercut with real footage of the holocaust, Vietnam, and Nixon/Watergate. Also we get a breakdown of what anorexia is, and how anorexics view their bodies. Which sheds some enlightenment on how Karen probably viewed her body as well.

Her family life is also addressed. Which appears to have been oppressive to say the least. Living with her parents until well into her twenties, Karen's home life was incongruent with her professional status. Also, bizarrely even perhaps, we are featured to clips of spankings. Presumably, we are to believe this is Karen being spanked by her dad. Which, when considering that this is a bare bottom spanking, also invokes ominous abusive overtones.

But on the bright side, plenty of good music is featured. We've Only Just Begun, Close To You, and my personal favorite Superstar get plenty of play. Superstar, which was co-penned by Leon Russell, and Bonnie Bramlett, is a song so solidly written, that not even Sonic Youth could fuck it up.

Needless to say, the movie ends on a down note. But, if your interested in the life of Karen Carpenter, or just like "Behind The Music" type programming, I'd check it out. The Barbie doll motif works. The music is good. It's only a little over forty minutes long. And it makes Richard Carpenter look gay, which is probably the real reason he sued it into oblivion.


1 comment:

  1. As much as I love the song Superstar, I think the Sonic Youth version, while not a complete fuck up, is still a huge disservice to the song's beauty.

    Also, when/how does Richard Carpenter not look gay? if that was one of his reasons, then I wonder if he ever sued a mirror.


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