Friday, June 29, 2007

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story

I watched this last night, and I keep wanting to say I was "blown away" by it, although really I just thought it was very good. I don't know much about Todd Haynes. I think the only other film of his that I've ever seen was Velvet Goldmine, which I watched just after I got out of high school, probably six or seven years ago. I remember thinking it was very pretty, but I don't remember a whole lot else about it. After watching this, though, I feel like I need to track down some more of Haynes's stuff.

Part of the reason this film seems to call for hyperbolic language is that many of the devices it uses seem intentionally audacious. Its use of Barbies instead of actors to play the characters; the use of b+w "shocking" footage to represent Karen Carpenter's inner battle with body issues--especially the use a couple of times of archival footage of Holocaust victims; the hammy overacting of the voice actors; the overly dramatic brassy blasts of music when characters discover evidence of Carpenter's anorexia; the ultra-serious voice over narration: one would usually expect all of these things to point to some kind of parody of either the film's subject or of a certain type of film, but this film never becomes that. It's the tension between the expectation that at any moment the film will explode into a campy satire and the fact that it never does that I found most interesting while watching it.

And it really is very good. Apparently Richard Carpenter has some issues with the film, so it's possible it won't stay up at Google Video for too long. Be sure to catch it while it's still hot! (via)

From the Google Video description:
Openly gay, experimental filmmaker Todd Haynes burst upon the scene two years after his graduation from Brown University with his ... all ยป now-infamous 43-minute cult treasure "Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story" (1987). Seizing upon the inspired gimmick of using Barbie and Ken dolls to sympathetically recount the story of the pop star's death from anorexia, he spent months making miniature dishes, chairs, costumes, Kleenex and Ex-Lax boxes, and Carpenters' records to create the film's intricate, doll-size mise-en-scene. The result was both audacious and accomplished as the dolls seemingly ceased to be dolls leaving the audience weeping for the tragic singer.

Unfortunately, Richard Carpenter's enmity for the film (which made him look like a selfish jerk) led to the serving of a "cease and desist" order in 1989, and despite the director's offer "to only show the film in clinics and schools, with all money going to the Karen Carpenter memorial fund for anorexia research," "Superstar" remains buried, one of the few films in modern America that cannot be seen by the general public.

Now finally you have a chance to see this piece.

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