1970's, 1988, Anorexia Nervosa, Banned, Barbie doll, Breakthrough, Cinema, Cult, Cynthia Schneider, Drummer, Entertainment Weekly, Experiemental, Film, Great, Karen Carpenter, Ken doll, Merrill Gruver, Michael Edwards, Music, Poetic, Short Film, Singer, Superstar, The Carpenters, Todd Haynes, Top of the World, Underground
Very few people have seen this 1988 short film Todd Haynes (“Far From Heaven”, “Mildrid Pierce”) co-wrote and directed, but once you do–it’s simply hard to get it out of your mind.
It was in the late ’90’s when a couple who specialized in underground films approached me with the notion of seeing a biography of Karen Carpenter made entirely with Ken and Barbie dolls. Obviously this concept is amusing in of itself so I had to ask, “It must all be done with stop motion, right?”
“No,” was their response. “It’s very clear someone is holding onto their legs underneath the camera and moving them around the frame.”
“Is this film a joke?”
“No, it’s actually a sincere attempt to tell Karen’s story–warts and all.”
I was intrigued. How could a film that was seemingly made this cheesy be so highly recommended by these people? And more importantly, where on Earth was I going to find it?
You see, since 1990, “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story” has been banned. I guess Mattel and The Carpenter Family were not amused, so lawsuits and cease and desist orders were leveled at the young filmmaker.
I guess I’m not surprised, due to the sensitive nature of this subject (and the sensitive nature of selling more toys and records, of course). But what strikes me is that the film in no way uses the Barbie dolls and Karen’s music as a cheap stunt.
Everything is here to tell the story–clearly, concisely and powerfully. In fact, I’ll bet after the first few minutes, you’ll even forget you’re watching toys being marched across the screen. It’s that good.
I’m glad the director, Todd Haynes has continued his filmmaking journey along fascinating lines; leaving behind the wake of controversy that immediately smuthered this precious little short.
Fifteen years ago I found a copy of this film on Ebay. Today, it’s right below this post. Isn’t the internet swell?
Please now enjoy this breakthrough in cinema: Todd Haynes’ “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story.”