June 22, 2009

Random Musing: Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story

In 1987, director Todd Haynes and collaborator Cynthia Schneider wrote a short film based on the life of pop singer Karen Carpenter (You know her as one-half of the 1970s soft rock duo, The Carpenters). Haynes sympathetically and reverently portrayed Karen as an abused celebrity tortured by her family, her record label, and, most importantly, society's obsession with thinness. To represent Karen's struggle for her body's perfection, Haynes ironically used Barbie dolls as characters, being that Barbies (and Kens) are the epitome of ideal bodies.

Having seen Haynes' "Far from Heaven" and enjoying it, I have decided to go back and check out some of his other work. I had heard of "Superstar" and its Barbie characters before, and I knew I had to see it. However, there are some people out there who really did not want to see it and have gone to many lengths to ensure it is not seen...

According to Wikipedia, upon its release, the film was a minor hit in art house theaters and was shown at several film festivals. However, not long afterward, Richard Carpenter (the other half of The Carpenters) viewed the film and became irate with the film's portrayal of his family, in particular because the film insinuated that he had a "private life" (i.e. gay lifestyle). Carpenter was able to get the film pulled from distribution and exhibition by way of a copyright infringement suit, as Haynes had failed to obtain proper licensing to use numerous Carpenters songs in the film. (The Museum of Modern Art still retains a copy of this film but has agreed with the Carpenter estate not to exhibit it.)

Because a copy of this nearly-impossible-to-find cult film exists on YouTube, I would like to share it with you. It is certainly notable for its style (and I am not just talking about the Barbies―I also refer to the interesting editing and symbolism). Watch this infamous film with me now.

UPDATE: While doing some research for a photo for this blog, I just discovered a blog called "Thoughts on Stuff" by Patrick. He wrote a blog about this film four years ago and came to a similar conclusion that I made for Haynes' "Far from Heaven." Patrick says, "I think Haynes' biggest issue is with showing how characters who seem to have it all may in fact be the most unhappy. All of the three main characters here are forced by society to do things they do not want to do, and it leads to unhappiness and reaction against societal norms."

It appears Haynes may have a common theme running through his films... I cannot believe I did not extrapolate the message of "Far from Heaven" to this film. It does fit, after all.

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