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January 10, 2014

SUPERSTAR: THE KAREN CARPENTER STORY

Superstar- The Karen Carpenter StoryPerhaps the most sophisticated student film you’ll ever see — director Todd Haynes made the movie as part of his MFA studies at Bard College — “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story” is a provocative study in how much a gifted filmmaker can do with limited resources.

The primary conceit of Haynes’s brief biopic of one of popular music’s most tragic figures is that he uses customized Barbie dolls to represent each of the film’s characters. Strong vocal performances from unseen actors help acclimate the audience to the film’s ingenious visual landscape, which seamlessly blends between miniature sets, real-world locations, and significant pop culture references.

Haynes’s haunting mastery of filmic composition is on display as he deftly weaves elements of social and political commentary regarding ‘70s era America into a cogent distillation of Karen Carpenter’s struggles with her self-image that contributed to the anorexic condition that claimed her life at the age of 32.

Superstar-the-karen-carpenter

It’s clear that Haynes put much thought and effort into examining the familial and social conditions that not only fueled The Carpenters’ timeless recordings of iconic songs — remember “We’ve only Just Begun,” “Close to You,” or “Top of the World” — but also worked their way through Karen Carpenter’s body in a literal way.

The movie reveals a micro-macro American tragedy with a sunny façade that could not withstand the confused motivations and falsehoods behind them. Tearing a page from Martin Scorsese’s handbook, Haynes used The Carpenters’ music without licensing rights and as such was successfully sued by Richard Carpenter. A judge’s ruling required that all copies of the film be recalled and destroyed. As such very few would-be audiences have had the privilege viewing this inspired and effective film.

Not Rated. 43 mins. (A) (Five Stars — out of five / no halves)

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