"Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story"

The following embed of a notorious 1987 indie film called Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story comes to us courtesy of New Zealand-based comic book writer and artist Dylan Horrocks, who says “I remember seeing it at the Auckland Film Festival and being disconcerted, impressed, and powerfully moved. […] The audience laughed a lot at the beginning. But by the end, we watched in stunned silence. I’ve never forgotten it.”

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Two years after graduating with an MFA from Bard College, Superstar director Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine, Far from Heaven, Safe) shocked and moved unprepared audiences with the now-infamous and nigh-impossible-to-track down 43 minute film. “Seizing upon the inspired gimmick of using Barbie and Ken dolls to sympathetically recount the story of the pop star’s death from anorexia, he spent months making miniature dishes, chairs, costumes, Kleenex and Ex-Lax boxes, and Carpenters’ records to create the film’s intricate, doll-size mise-en-scene. The result was both audacious and accomplished as the dolls seemingly ceased to be dolls leaving the audience weeping for the tragic singer.” (via)

Richard Carpenter, upon viewing the film, was apparently enraged at its depiction of his family– especially by Haynes’ insinuations that Richard was gay. In 1989, after confirming with A&M Records that Haynes had never obtained proper music licensing for numerous Carpenters songs used in the film, Richard Carpenter served Haynes with a cease-and-desist order and sued him for failing to obtain proper clearance.  Haynes offered “to only show the film in clinics and schools, with all money going to the Karen Carpenter Memorial Fund for anorexia research”, but Carpenter was unrelenting, and eventually won his lawsuit against Haynes. All copies of Superstar were recalled and destroyed.  (According to Wiki, the Museum of Modern Art retains a print of the film, but has consented to never screen or exhibit it at the Carpenter estate’s request.)

More than two full decades after it was made, copies of Superstar still remain very difficult to track down. Except, of course (somewhat dubiously), on YouTube.

3 Responses to “"Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story"”

  1. bluu Says:

    This is so incredibly well done. Hard to watch (especially as someone who struggled with eating disorders, myself), but just amazing.

  2. ruby tuesday Says:

    thanks so much for this!!!

    and also isn’t dylan horrocks grand!? i loved hicksville

  3. CliffyPop Says:

    I still have a VHS copy (of a copy of a…) from S.F.’s Lost Weekend Video from well over 15 years ago. It looks like the preview shot above, only a little worse. Yet, even blurry and grainy, it’s still a moving portrait and so surreal.

    I’ve read that Richard was upset about the gay inferences, but I always wondered what he thought about the twisted TV/food close-ups and barbie doll ass-slapping nightmare sequences.

    Regardless, it’s a powerful vision of a tragic illness and a star who fell victim of fame and family problems.