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Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1988)

 -  Short | Music  -  30 April 1988 (USA)
7.9
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Ratings: 7.9/10 from 1,659 users  
Reviews: 38 user | 27 critic

Karen Carpenter's battle with anorexia nervosa and the cultural influence of the Carpenters in the 70s.

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Title: Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1988)

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Cast

Credited cast:
Merrill Gruver ...
Karen (voice)
Michael Edwards ...
Richard (voice)
Melissa Brown ...
Mother (voice)
...
Dad / Mr. A&M (voice)
Nannie Doyle ...
Cherry Boone (voice)
Cynthia Schneider ...
Dionne Warwick (voice)
Larry Kole ...
Announcer (voice)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Joanne Barrett
Gwen Kraus ...
Narrator (voice)
Michelle Manenti
Moira McCarty
...
Himself - President of the United States (archive footage)
Celia Pearce
...
Himself - President of the United States (archive footage)
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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

Genres:

Short | Music

Certificate:

Not Rated
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Details

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Release Date:

30 April 1988 (USA)  »

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Did You Know?

Trivia

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

Goofs

In the opening sequence, a crew member can be glimpsed at the end of the hallway as the camera rounds the corner on its way into Karen's bedroom. See more »

Quotes

Richard: Karen, why are you doing this?
Karen: I was constipated.
Richard: Oh, you liar!
Karen: Don't tell mom and dad, Richard.
Richard: Why shouldn't I? Why shouldn't I tell them? You are ruining my life!
Karen: If you do, I'll tell them about you and your "private" life.
Richard: You say one word to them, one fucking word...
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Velvet Goldmine (1998) See more »

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User Reviews

 
Richard and Mattel aren't amused at the honesty of anorexia.
25 February 2002 | by (Apalachicola, FLA) – See 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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