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    Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story

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    Admin
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    Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story

    Post by Admin on Sat Feb 06, 2010 3:02 am

    In 1987 famed director Todd Haynes directed, wrote and produced “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story”. Little did he know at the time that this short 43 minute film, in which all the major roles all played by Barbie and Ken dolls, would garner as much controversy and attention as it has over the past 23 years. The film has become a classic of sorts. The movie is generally known as a Todd Haynes film as he did write the majority of the screenplay as well as build the miniature sets and was the backbone of the entire film. Haynes did however have a small crew of associates and collaborators working with him. Most notably Cynthia Schneider, who co-wrote and co-produced the movie.

    Todd Haynes had been a fan of Carpenters music from his childhood. Being born in 1961 Carpenters music brings Haynes childhood memories of growing up in Southern California. Haynes put a lot of work into creating this film. He meticulously built all the miniature sets used in the movie, including Karen's drum set and Richard's keyboards. He built around ten separate sets, including the Carpenters Downey home, the A&M office, an A&M recording studio, a Las Vegas backstage dressing room, a hospital room in which Karen stayed and Karen’s condo. Todd Haynes has said, “Well, Ken is 12 inches tall, so I made that my scale. If he’s six feet in human scale, than every foot equaled two inches in Barbie scale.”

    Cynthia Schneider and Todd Haynes did their research for the movie in various ways. They made a trip to California. They visited the Carpenter home in Downey (which is pictured on the Now and Then album cover). Todd took pictures and video recordings of the home which were used in the film as well as filming footage of the city of Downey, which also ended up in the movie. Both Schneider and Haynes joined the official Carpenters fan club and ordered back issues of the famous Fan Club Newsletters from which they accumulated many topics to use in the movie. They also made purchases of promo videos, studio photos, record albums and more. All these items fostered the look of the film.

    The movie was filmed in several different locations primarily in New York. Todd Haynes himself made a cameo appearance in the movie as disc jockey Todd Donovan, who was praising the qualities of Karen’s voice. His appearance in the movie was not planned and came about when the person who was supposed to play the role was a no show.

    Right from the beginning the film was riddled with controversy. During the making of the film the crew had considered getting people to do cover versions of the Carpenters songs, but it was agreed that that the story couldn’t be properly told without Karen’s haunting voice. Haynes and Schneider went ahead in producing the film knowing that there could be legal problems. Later in the production Haynes attempted to get the rights to use the music. He sent letters to the various music publishers. He also sent a letter to Richard Carpenter. A reply came from Richard Carpenter’s legal representative denying Haynes permission to use any Carpenters music in the film. Haynes decided to complete the film anyway. With its release the film took off slow and finally after a few months it became popular on the art film circuit and was a popular item at film festivals throughout the U.S. About two years later the film received good reviews in the Village Voice and Artforum, it was with these reviews that Richard Carpenter heard that the film was in distribution and being publicly shown. In 1989 Richard Carpenter and A&M took Todd Haynes to court and were successful in getting a cease-and-desist order which prevents the film from being distributed or publicly shown in any form. Haynes offered to show the movie only in clinics and schools with all money it may make going to the Karen Carpenter Memorial Fund for anorexia research. Richard Carpenter refused this offer. Fragment (consider revising)
    Regardless, the film went on to become a classic.

    Along with the issue of using Carpenters music the Mattel Corporation also came after Haynes for trademark infringement for using the Barbie name and image in his movie without obtaining rights to do so. In 1988 Mattel sent Haynes and his crew several cease and desist letters, one which commented that the product was being used in association with death. This never went to court as Mattel didn‘t have a strong case against Haynes and associates.

    Then came the controversy that the film implied that Richard Carpenter was gay. Haynes has said in the movie Karen makes a comment to Richard that she would tell their parents about his secret life asking him, “Do the Carpenters have something to hide?” Haynes says these comments were merely a hint or an insinuation as opposed to a direct remark. The statements are oblique. It’s up to the viewer to decide what these statements mean to them. Many people have also taken the statements to relate to Richard’s addiction to prescription drugs.

    The next controversy came through the fans of Karen Carpenter. Most of Karen’s fans did not get the opportunity to see the movie throughout the 90’s but many came to form an opinion on it. Without knowing anything about the movie and based on the facts that Richard Carpenter had the movie banned and the movie is done with Barbie dolls the fans developed a negative view on the movie. Many fans assumed that the movie was a parody of the Carpenters and was making fun of them. This may not have been so far off the truth as the Carpenters had been the target of criticism from critics and the general public all throughout their reign on the pop charts.

    Amidst all its controversies the film has managed to become extremely popular and is regarded highly by art film critics. There are literally thousands of bootleg copies of the film circulating throughout the world. The film placed at #45 on Entertainment Weekly Magazine’s 2003 feature Top 50 Cult Films of All-Time. The Museum of Modern Art in New York retains a copy of the film but has agreed not to show it.


    Below is a link to the book which tells the entire story of the making of the movie.


    Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story CLICK HERE to see book


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    karenlove

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    Re: Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story

    Post by karenlove on Sat Feb 06, 2010 5:46 am

    Good topic. I've watched this movie. I was reluctant at first but ended up enjoying it. It has added to the legacy of the Carpenters.
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    Re: Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story

    Post by Admin on Tue Feb 16, 2010 8:36 pm

    I purchased the book by Glyn Davis titled "Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story" and found it to be an excellent read. Of course the book is not about Karen Carpenter, it's about the movie which was produced by Todd Haynes, in which he used Barbie dolls to depict the main characters.

    I found several passages in the book to be quite interesting. I'd like to touch on one of them right now.

    On page 100 author Glyn Davis states, "Perhaps most importantly, for some viewers Superstar is beyond boundaries of acceptable taste."

    I think it is this fact that kept me from watching the movie for quite some time. I remember back in 2001 I would see bootleg copies for sale on Ebay and I would cringe at the fact. It made me very upset to see it listed. I was under the assumption that the movie was making fun of Carpenters. I came to realize, several years later, that I was wrong when I read a few reviews on the movie.

    When I finally watched the movie I came to find out it was very supportive of Carpenters music and portrayed Karen in a positive approach. I was pleased with this. But, the movie did contain it's share of somewhat vulgar scenes. The movie depicts a darker side of anorexia, which while watching the movie I found to be unnecessary. Although after watching the movie it was these graphic depictions which left an impression on me. The movie may not have been as affective in getting the message across without Haynes leanings toward vulgarity.

    The movie also had hints of violence and politics by showing warlike bombing scenes, which again while I was watching the movie, I just could not figure out what this had to do with Karen Carpenter. Now, I have come to understand the oblique tie in to Karen. The bombings symbolize the shocking nature of an anorectics life. Karen's life was often tumultuous and hectic. Much like wartime her life was filled with sadness and danger, the danger that her life was being threatened by the disease she lived with.

    Overall, the movie was very in your face, it's shocking and powerful. It's not one bit for the "Sound Of Music" crowd... and I'm not putting down "The Sound Of Music" I found that to be quite an engaging movie. "Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story" is for a different sort of movie viewer, an artsy, gothic, underground sort of viewer. Fortunately for Haynes there are more than enough movie viewer who enjoy this sort of fare, I am one of them. I think this movie's biggest accomplishment is that it has brought Karen Carpenter to underground cult icon status.

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    gypsyangelheart

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    Re: Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story

    Post by gypsyangelheart on Thu Mar 25, 2010 5:17 pm

    Wonderful post, Rick. Thanks for letting us know about the book.

    The rest of my post is just my humble opinon. In no way am I saying I know what really happened in Karen and Richard's lives. I'm just reacting and voicing my thoughts regarding Todd Haynes' film.

    I really enjoyed the film. Todd Haynes does a great job and is very sympathetic to Karen. The opening is very chilling.

    Todd portrays Karen as being controlled by her family and the record company and how this caused her to try and control something in her life. Karen was not the type to rebel. She turned everything in on herself, instead. Todd shows that decisions were made for her. Like the mother taking over and stating Karen will now sing. I love the way Karen said: WHAT?! The scene in the record executive's office is interesting. Todd makes it look like Karen and Richard are signing a deal with the devil. lol The slow motion of the hand reaching out made me want to scream: "Run, Karen. Run!"

    Was Haynes using the Richard Ken Doll in Karen's dream/fantasy? According to some viewers he was and they were very upset. I don't think Haynes meant it in a perverse way. I think it's quite natural for some younger sisters, especially sensitive souls, to develop innocent crushes on their older brothers. Todd could have used this imagery to show why Karen (in the beginning) allowed Richard to make decisions concerning her life and career. Todd could be showing why she trusted him so much, because she looked up to him and adored him. That's why the rejection of her solo album must have been devastating for her. Like a slap in the face from the one she thought would always be there for her. Karen deserved support and respect.

    I like how Haynes makes a simple plate of food look disgusting. However, Haynes shows that food is really secondary. The main issue is control. Not eating is a symptom of feeling no control in your life. It's the one thing you can control. The scene where Richard is trying to get Karen to eat shows this. Even though he is trying to help, it is still being perceived by Karen as another aspect of her life he and others are trying to control and she'll be damned if he was going to tell her what to put in her own mouth. BTW, Karen and Richard loved each other immensely, but we all have our limits when it comes to being told what to do.

    I've always felt Karen should have remained the drummer. The drums were clearly her passion and she was extremely gifted. She is so joyful and free playing her drums and singing. You don't take someone's passion away from them and expect everything to be okay.

    On a side note: I think Karen, perhaps, suffered from the "disease to please." You can see it quite clearly in the "Music, Music, Music" outtakes. The director praises Karen, but corrects Richard. You can see how Karen feels bad for Richard. Karen tells a self-effacing joke in order to make Richard feel better. That is quite a burden to carry. Always trying to make things right for others all the while making fun of yourself. I know. I tried doing this and I developed anorexia nervosa, as well. Thinking you have to be perfect for everyone around you. You always have to make things better.

    Another scene in the film that was quite jarring, was when "Richard" was yelling at Karen. Not once does he mention her overall health and how all that matters is Karen. It was all about their careers. I wanted to shout: " Your sister needs to be shown unconditional love, affection and true support. Her very being/soul is what matters." I know they had a crowd waiting for them and contracts, etc., but all her life it had been about others. Karen needed to find her own identity. As Rick pointed out in the Little Girl Blue and pet peeves thread, Karen really was working on gaining her independence during her solo sessions.

    The scene where all of these voices can be heard calling Karen's name over and over is quite intense. The spanking to me symbolized her feelings of having no control in her life and how she must be disciplined for not being perfect-not living up to people's expectations. People were pulling her in all directions and she was trying to figure out how to please all of them. The problem is you can not please everyone. The spanking, also, could refer to the times Karen tried to assert herself only to be ignored or disciplined. Karen was a free spirit and a strong woman, but she had been conditioned to think she had to curb her spontaneity.

    Oh, I just thought of another scene that showed how Karen must have felt suffocated. It's the scene in the hospital when she wakes up to see all of these people hovering over her. It's quite an eerie picture. Here it is....
    If I woke up to people hovering over me like that, I'd scream. They are there because they love her, but the way it is shot shows how they were extremely overprotective of her and the angle makes the family look like aliens observing their test subject. Brilliant scene that says so much in one shot.

    It was a great film and I'm very glad I watched it. I now have it saved on my computer. Smile

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