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Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1988)

Not Rated | | Short, Biography, Drama | 30 April 1988 (USA)
Karen Carpenter's battle with anorexia nervosa and the cultural influence of the Carpenters in the 70s.

Director:

Todd Haynes
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Merrill Gruver Merrill Gruver ... Karen (voice)
Michael Edwards ... Richard (voice)
Melissa Brown Melissa Brown ... Mother (voice)
Rob LaBelle ... Dad / Mr. A&M (voice)
Nannie Doyle Nannie Doyle ... Cherry Boone (voice)
Cynthia Schneider Cynthia Schneider ... Dionne Warwick (voice)
Larry Kole Larry Kole ... Announcer (voice)
Gwen Kraus Gwen Kraus ... Narrator (voice)
Bruce Tuthill Bruce Tuthill ... Narrator (voice)
Joanne Barnett Joanne Barnett ... Herself - Singer
Todd Haynes ... (voice)
Moira McCarty Moira McCarty ... (voice)
Laurie Stone Laurie Stone ... (voice)
Michelle Manenti Michelle Manenti ... (voice)
Celia Pearce Celia Pearce ... (voice)
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Storyline

Karen and Richard Carpenter are young musicians living with their parents in Downey, California. Richard shows great promise as a songwriter and Karen, who plays drums, begins to sing vocals, thrusting the duo into stardom. They become wildly successful, Karen's striking voice and Richard's soft melodies capturing the essence of the nation's yearning for calm after the turbulent Sixties. But Karen strives for perfection and becomes increasingly fearful of her weight, despite being a slender woman. Eventually she is diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, a mental disease relating to stress, lack of control, and low self-esteem. A fight for Karen's life ensues. Written by Jim Beaver <jumblejim@prodigy.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Certificate:

Not Rated
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

30 April 1988 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Iced Tea Productions See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Ranked #45 on Entertainment Weekly's "Top 50 Cult Films of All-Time" See more »

Goofs

The same scene of Karen in the hospital is used for Karen in her bed at home when her mother calls. See more »

Quotes

Title Card: The self-imposed regime of the anorexic reveals a complex internal apparatus of resistance and control. Her intensive need for self-discipline consumes and replaces all her other needs and desires. Anorexia can thus be seen as an addiction and abuse of self control, a fascism over the body in which the sufferer plays the parts of both dictator and the emaciated victim who she so often resembles. In a culture that continues to control women through the commoditization of their bodies, the ...
See more »

Crazy Credits

There are no ending credits, the film ends after shots of newspaper headlines detailing Karen Carpenter's death. See more »

Connections

Features I Dream of Jeannie (1965) See more »

Soundtracks

Alone Again (Naturally)
Written by Gilbert O'Sullivan
Performed by Gilbert O'Sullivan
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Richard and Mattel aren't amused at the honesty of anorexia.
25 February 2002 | by fredk_usSee all my reviews

Part 1: An important film by one of the few AIDS-awareness directors. All of Todd Haynes' films/stories symbolize the alienation, decay, and whenever possible, rebirth, of the gay man vis-a-vis AIDS. We've lost so many to AIDS, and although today the horror slumbers often, the story here is just as gripping. Combining the details of Karen Carpenter's existence with his motif/approach, Haynes tells us a lot about the suffering, solitude, and emotional blackmail that comes with that yearn for success. I am amused that most film critics stuck to the surface story and paid lip service to Karen Carpenter's ordeal as a girl in a nuclear family bubble. Civil sympathy is a bit of a bore.

Richard and Mattel, the creators of Barbie, have blocked the film's availability; all prints are legally supposed to have been destroyed. Richard blocks it because of the usage of the Carpenters' music, which ought to be public domain anyway!. Mattel blocks it because of the usage of Barbie dolls for all the characters and the overt implication that plastic existence has drastic consequences.

It's amusing and then gripping the overlays of text, music upon music, narrative, darkness, and camera pans that punctuate the film. But the surface story -- Karen lost in her own world of hopeless perfection as envisioned by her domineering mother, Agnes Carpenter -- is a fine one as it depicts a cultural shift from Vietnam's horror to Nixon's false-father stability. (The Carpenters were invited to perform for the President at the White House.) Wholesomeness, in Haynes' tale, requires grit, profanity, endless self-subterfuge and a propensity for collapse. That A&M Records is seen to be malevolent cannot be Karen's reason for self-starvation. That the rest of the rock world is living it up while Carpenters sweat it out in the studio cannot be the reason either. And yet the reason for her illness, like the bird attacks in Hitchcock's 1963 thriller, is never disclosed -- as if it could be, and Haynes shows us his chains of reasoning and events and all we can do is marvel at the Edgar Allen Poe Barbie Dolls and Karen's gradual transformation into Munch visual madness.

Todd Haynes takes liberties with what happened, but usually only as a convenience; it all comes through and through regardless: the family's accidental discovery that Karen could sing like nobody else; the switch from laxatives to syrup of ipecac and vomiting; the allegations that Richard Carpenter has always been homosexual.

Word-of-mouth will get you a copy of the film, which only benefits from the acres of great music the duo produced. Karen Carpenter is dead, like so many other against illness and massive ignorance. Haynes' paean to her strength and helplessness, her soulful gloom and snatches of love, transforms the viewer, who is pressed to create his or her own Barbie-format epic!


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