Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987) [Short]

USA (MIFF 1989 )
Director: Todd Haynes

As the above listing suggests, there's so much going on in Superstar's 43 minutes that it's difficult to know where to start a description. Suffice to say this is one of the most original films you're likely to see this year, and one of the few in recent memory to give semiotics a good name!

Haynes's celebrated (in the US anyway) film is simultaneously a doco on the tragic life of singer Karen Carpenter; an effective study of anorexia; a pithy parody of conventional celebrity biopics; an inspired analysis of The Carpenters as a 'key 70s text'; a proto-Reaganite counter-offensive to the turbulence of the sixties and early seventies, as embodied by Karen's smooth, calming voice and the group's many White House appearances.

Haynes and Schneider's final trump card is the 'casting' of an ensemble of Barbie and Ken dolls to play the Carpenter family. Playing off a range of implied associations — (hapless toy/(perfect) role model/manipulated innocent/contrived (plastic) public image, etc) —opens up a treasure-trove of interpretations, the most unexpected probably being how underestimated The Carpenters music may have been at the time. Hearing her sing 'Rainy Days and Mondays (Always Get Me Down)' can only have the viewer speculate on exactly what Karen Carpenter had on her mind at the time.

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