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Is banned art-film, ‘Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story,’ the weirdest music movie ever made?


 
Director Todd Haynes is well-known for his arty, fictionalized depictions of music iconography. Velvet Goldmine was a glam rock epic, with characters modeled after Bowie and Iggy, while I’m Not There features seven different actors portraying “fictional” facets of Bob Dylan’s personality or mystique. Both films blur reality with stylized interpretations, but neither takes even a fraction of the liberties Haynes exercised with his 1987 grad school student film, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story.

The film opens up on Karen’s death, then flashes back to narrate her rise to fame. It’s a spasmodic format—switching between interviews with peripheral music industry people, random footage and fascinatingly elaborate mise-en-scène reenactments staged with Barbie dolls and melodramatic voice-overs. In reference to Karen’s anorexia, Haynes actually whittled down her Barbie effigy with a knife for later scenes, mimicking the progressive emaciation of her body. It’s a dark portrayal of a slow death, Karen and Barbie, both icons of American perfection, wasting away before our eyes.

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story is technically illegal to exhibit, although since the advent of YouTube, it’s a bit of a moot point (the upload embedded below was posted in 2012). Karen’s brother Richard sued Haynes for copyright infringement. MOMA has a copy but even they aren’t allowed to screen it. Even if Haynes hadn’t used Carpenters songs, there’s a good chance Richard Carpenter would’ve found basis for a lawsuit. Haynes portrays Karen as the victim of her narcissistic and tyrannical family, even suggesting Richard was closeted.

It’s difficult not to be sympathetic to Richard Carpenter who probably viewed the film as mere ghoulish, exploitative sensationalism. It’s a strangely invasive and voyeuristic piece of art, and the argument could be made that it’s totally unethical in its ambiguous, semi-biographical fiction. It’s also totally hypnotic, with a compelling narrative and a pioneering experimentalism that makes it one of the great cult classics.
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Kim Gordon’s open letter to Karen Carpenter

Karen and Kim
 
Of course, most Sonic Youth fans are aware that the 1990 song, “Tunic (Song for Karen),” is a not exactly transparent reference to Karen Carpenter, the honey-voiced chanteuse and easy-listening icon. Kim Gordon’s trademark disaffected delivery feels almost sardonic, as she pleas, “I feel like I’m disappearing - getting smaller every day, but I look in the mirror - I’m bigger in every way”  a reference to Carpenter’s tragic 1983 death from complications related to anorexia nervosa.

In fact, Gordon was a giant Carpenters fan, and the song is completely earnest. Explaining the lyrics 20 years later, Gordon professed,

I was trying to put myself into Karen’s body. It was like she had so little control over her life, like a teenager – they have so little control over what’s happening to them that one way they can get it is through what they eat or don’t. Also I think she lost her identity, it got smaller and smaller. And there have been times when I feel I’ve lost mine. When people come and ask me about being famous or whatever and I don’t feel that, it’s not me. But it makes me think about it. The music is definitely about the darker side. But I also wanted to liberate Karen into heaven

Below is an open letter written by Gordon to Karen (date unknown), reprinted from the Sonic Youth biography, Sonic Youth: Sensational Fix:

Dear Karen,

Thru the years of The Carpenters TV specials I saw you change from the Innocent Oreo-cookie-and-milk-eyed girl next door to hollowed eyes and a lank body adrift on a candy-colored stage set. You and Richard, by the end, looked drugged—there’s so little energy. The words come out of yr mouth but yr eyes say other things, “Help me, please, I’m lost in my own passive resistance, something went wrong. I wanted to make myself disappear from their control. My parents, Richard, the writers who call me ‘hippie, fat.’ Since I was, like most girls, brought up to be polite and considerate, I figured no one would notice anything wrong—as long as, outwardly, I continued to do what was expected of me. Maybe they could control all the outward aspects of my life, but my body is all in my control. I can make myself smaller. I can disappear. I can starve myself to death and they won’t know it. My voice will never give me away. They’re not my words. No one will guess my pain. But I will make the words my own because I have to express myself somehow. Pain is not perfect so there is no place in Richard’s life for it. I have to be perfect too. I must be thin so I’m perfect. Was I a teenager once?... I forget. Now I look middle-aged, with a bad perm and country-western clothes.”

I must ask you, Karen, who were your role models? Was it yr mother? What kind of books did you like to read? Did anyone ever ask you that question—what’s it like being a girl in music? What were yr dreams? Did you have any female friends or was it just you and Richard, mom and dad, A&M? Did you ever go running along the sand, feeling the ocean rush up between yr legs? Who is Karen Carpenter, really, besides the sad girl with the extraordinarily beautiful, soulful voice?

your fan – love,
kim

 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Just how beautiful was Karen Carpenter’s voice? Listen to her isolated vocal tracks and find out

Unedited interview with Kim Gordon from 1988

Via Letters of Note

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Just how beautiful was Karen Carpenter’s voice? Listen to her isolated vocal tracks and find out
03.02.2012
11:27 am

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Karen Carpenter


 
I rarely write music-related posts here on Dangerous Minds, but a recent comment from Studio Multitracks directing me to the isolated vocals of Karen Carpenter stirred a childhood memory for me. As I listened, I will admit that I got a little misty-eyed. My god was her voice oh so beautiful, powerful and nuanced and you can really hear that, here.

I recall every Saturday morning in the late-70s and early-80s, the drudgery of having to help clean the house with my mother. The two things my mother played on constant rotation while we cleaned together were the Carpenters’ The Singles: 1969 - 1973 and Carol King’s Tapestry. Man, did I loathe “cleaning Saturdays,” but hearing the soothing voice of Karen Carpenter always made it somewhat bearable, and sometimes, even…enjoyable.

Karen Carpenter’s voice takes me to that happy safe place when I was young and everything seemed possible.
 
Below, “Ticket to Ride” vocals and drums:

 
More isolated vocals after the jump…

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Happy birthday Karen Carpenter: The Carpenters in concert, 1972
03.02.2012
12:01 am

Topics:
Music
Pop Culture

Tags:
Karen Carpenter
The Carpenters


 
It’s Karen Carpenter’s birthday and here’s some really fine concert footage of the pop goddess performing at the tender age of 22 in Australia in 1972.

The drums are up in the mix and can hear what a fine drummer Karen was and at times in her singing and attitude you can detect an edge that belied the warm and fuzzy mainstream image that was part of the packaging of The Carpenters. She was one of the original riot grrrls.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Barbie Vs. Karen Carpenter: We’ve Only Just Begun
09.24.2009
01:55 pm

Topics:
Movies

Tags:
Barbie
Karen Carpenter
Todd Haynes
Anorexia

image
 
In collaboration with Mattel Toys, Universal just announced their plans to build a live-action film around Barbie:

?

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment