(22/02/07) – Todd Haynes’ cult classic, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, has caused more controversy than its length and content deserve and is one of those genuine cases of a cultural artifact that is more spoken about than actually seen.
The 1987 43-minute film shows the immense talent that Haynes was to further develop with robust films such as Poison(1991), Safe(1995)and the more mainstream, imitation-of-Douglas Sirk Far From Heaven. The film covers Karen Carpenter’s life from tthe beginning of her career, ignited by ther ambitious brother, to her premature death in 1983, a result of her years of anorexia nervosa and bulimia. So far, so biopic. But what made Haynes’ film stand out and catch the attention of the world to his talent was the technique employed here: the cast of the film is composed of Barbie dolls – talk about Brechtian alienation!
Sets were created properly scaled to the dolls, including places such as the Carpenter home in Downey, Karen’s apartment in Century City, restaurants, recording studios. This is mingled with documentary-style segments detailing the times in which Karen Carpenter lived and also detailing anorexia.
The difficulty is getting hold of this film stems from the fact that Haynes lost a lawsuit filed by Karen’s brother and musical partner, Richard Carpenter, who is portrayed in a less than sympathetic light in Superstar. How he came across this then-underground film is to anyone’s guess. The fact is, the litigation only helped boost the film’s deserved cachet because it is an inventive work of imagination, as well as sympathetic to the subject it portrays, despite its overall dark tone.