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There have been a lot of opinions expressed as to the crux of Karen's
problems. Certainly the eating disorder was a result and not a cause of
the talented singer's anxiety.
The "controlling mother," need for romantic love, and career stresses all undoubtedly played a part. However, my feeling is that the act of moving Karen from her drums to the center stage mike was the real trigger.
The young musician felt comfortable and natural behind the drums. It was where she really belonged, despite professional dictates. A drummer's always a drummer at heart, sitting behind those traps and wielding those sticks. Her singing emanated from and was intertwined with the drumming, and not an isolated entity.
The move to center stage and abandoning her trap set was the beginning of Karen's downfall. The move robbed her of her base, grounding and natural habitat. It threw off her balance, and began her downward spiral to a rash of personal problems.
Seems like a small thing, yet my feeling is that had Karen remained behind those drums singing her songs, she might still be with us today.
The TV movie includes lots of great Carpenter hits, and includes the contribution of her protégé brother, Richard, who currently (in 2006) is alive and doing well in California.
I didn't personally know Karen Carpenter, nor, Richard for that matter, so I must go by how the movie portrayed her. I think a better person to ask about it's accuracy would be her brother Richard. However, from what I did see and learn of Karen, I felt her pain, share her sadness, and she was a very special person to me growing up. I know that I wasn't born until 1965 so I didn't get to know her as much as some of you older fans but I definitely grew up listening to her music and I have fond memories of her music. I remember the song about the "Radio" (every sha la la la every whoa...so fine,) etc and I remember "We've only just begun! As a matter of fact, I memorized many, many of her songs and some people (quite a few) tell me that my voice sounds almost identical to her!!! ( I am not joking on this). I also used to be anorexic during high school and part of college (1978-1987) to be exact and weighed anywhere from 82 pounds to eventually 120 pounds in 1987. I developed some pretty serious health problems from that which helped me to identify with the actress portraying Karen in the movie. The mother (Agnes) was very MUCH like my mother in many ways and I could also feel the pain that Karen must have experienced. For, my mother was often unfeeling, critical, and disapproving as Agnes was (if this was true to accuracy). The movie was helpful in identifying and getting to know Karen on a more personal note by not just hearing her music but by seeing what she was going through. It is quite difficult to portray a person's entire life in 2-3 hours and recount every single detail perfectly so I would have to say that there is probably no biography that is that accurate. I will give this story an 8 though! I wish I did know Karen personally! I would have DIED to meet her!! I would have loved to have shook her hand, given her a hug, or talked to her. I feel her warmth and love every time I hear one of her songs and she is greatly missed.
The tunes are the best aspect of this television film which has admittedly better-than-average production values, but very surface and slightly altered biography. Dramatizes Richard's discovery of "We've Only Just Begun" and Karen's marriage troubles admirably (the "Superstar" montage was a nice touch), yet notably leaves out the disagreement with Neil Sedaka, the contribution of Tony Peluso's guitar solos, etc. Gibb is sweet in her Karen persona, but it doesn't include the tomboyish and gutsier sides of the real Carpenter's personality. Anderson is in fine form as the creative and take-charge Richard, and Fletcher makes her mark as the loving but overbearing Agnes. The most haunting moment of the original broadcast is the use of "Goodbye to Love" in the background of a commercial displaying an anorexia hotline.
I've never usually been emotional at movies, but this one requires a box of Kleenex standing by. It is not hard to be carried back to the time when the Carpenters' were at the top of their profession, cranking out hit after hit like a music factory. They had a perfect combination, Richard's tremendous musical genius and Karen's angelic voice. As I watched the story unfold, I found myself remembering this wonderful time and the thought crossed my mind, how many people fell in love listening to the Carpenters' music. How many prom-nights was "close to you" danced to cheek to cheek, and how many wedding ceremonies used "We've only Just Begun" as the wedding dance? That was a special time, even at a time when hard rock and heavy metal were beginning to make a big splash on the music scene, The Carpenters' did not suffer for there share of the music market in the 70's was nothing less than staggering. Anyway, the movie touches on all the technical plus gives you their personal side of the lives of these two icons, and the demons they dealt with, Richard successfully, Karen, tragically. At least, Karen will always be immortal through the legacy of music left behind, and as I've seen it written at her graveside, "A star on earth, A star in heaven."
There is a clever little scene in The Karen Carpenter Story, where both
Carpenters are in a recording studio, and Richard makes an impromptu
decision to have Karen sing for the owner of the studio.
Richard picks the wrong key for Karen to sing in, so Karen is singing above her natural range. You can see a look of bemusement on the owner's face; he figures she really can't sing. Richard quickly realizes his mistake and tries again in a different key. The next thing you hear is Karen's amazing, beautiful voice, and the owner does a priceless double take. Nicely done! For some reason, I have never forgotten that scene.
The Karen Carpenter Story chronicles the meteoric rise of the Carpenters, and Karen's struggle to overcome anorexia. A lot of things are glossed over. This isn't a documentary, and the movie left me with a lot of questions. Very little is mentioned of Karen's solo venture (the CD was released only a few years ago. If you buy it, you will wonder why they waited. It's some of Karen's best work. The songs aren't as timeless as her work with brother Richard, but it was a great recording, in my opinion).
I have heard it said that, you can be listening to a cheap, time-worn little radio in the middle of the Third World, that would seem to produce more static than anything else. But when a Carpenter song comes on the radio, you would think you were listening to a $1000 Hi-Fidelity unit.
Watch this movie!
This movie could have been fantastic if it was on the big screen and cuts and changes weren't made for network television airings. I too would have cast a different actress to play Karen, and the movie changed many events in the Carpenters' lives that were real or left out certain events altogether. As a huge Carpenters' fan, I expected much more and was disappointed.
This film is a must for every fan of great music. It shows the real story behind the so-called "perfect"brother- sister entertainment duo.From the early days in Connecticut to their promising career start in California in the late 60`s. The super-duo of the the 70`s with their brilliant sound. Richard and Karen`s long struggle with drugs and anorexia problems, that finally led to her death in early 1983. One of most popular films of the year 1989.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One of the better made for TV biopics, I just wish it had told us more. I have read many biographies and seen other things about the Carpenters, and this movie did what it could, based on the constraints placed on it by the family. Cynthis Gibb did a wonderful job trying to bring Karen to life. One of my disappointments is that there was not more insight into Karen's anorexia. In the reading I have done about the disease (especially Cherry Boone O'Neill's wonderful book, Starving for Attention) anorexia appears to be a disease of control. Karen saw her weight as one thing in her life that she could control. She felt that she was being controlled in every other aspect of her life. Don't get me wrong, I believed she truly loved the music, but she felt she had little control over her career. She truly loved her family, but they did not express it well, and she didn't know how to make her family understand her. The film could have touched so much more on that. I treasure the music I have of the Carpenters and wish she was still alive to contribute more to music today.
Yes, this is one of the better done television movies and I wouldn't
expect less from Joe Sargent. One thing for this reviewer is that I was
also a great fan of The Carpenters, I got to sing all of their material
in elementary school and middle school choir and I got to do much of
the solo material of which Karen sang lead. I thought she was one of
the most wonderful pop singers of the 70's - and being a child/teen
singing these songs and learning music - the one thing I was looking
forward to was meeting this woman. I never got to, she died three weeks
before that was to happen. And yes, that did effect me for I knew
nothing of anorexia - and could not understand completely what
When this TV movie got produced, I got quite an understanding. Maybe not everything in Karen and Richard's life is open to the television audience, but in opening the parts that were shown, I got to understand much from the music industry of that time. What upsets me is that I am writing "of that time" and seeing "now". No one has learned a darned thing, even though this was a very informative and heartfelt look into a family's problems in the music industry.
These films aren't done for fun, they're done to open a door and show us something. Here was a wonderful woman who got caught up in the whole idea that her talent was based on weight. She was fine. Didn't know it. She got mixed messages about her weight from the brother she loved, the parents she loved and the music industry that cared more about her looks/weight than the talent within. With the onset of MTV, it got worse. With 'American Idol' it's like a puss festering in an English accent.
A wonderful TV film, I am sure later someone may give it an HBO treatment but either way, many lessons to be learned and the absence of another wonderful talent.
Every time I hear Karen Carpenter's voice, there is that old familiar feeling of 70's blues. What an overwhelmingly beautiful and mature voice she had. Cynthia Gibb cast in the title role does a good job, however, I thought Karen Allen would have been a better choice. This is a tearjerker movie that does a fine job of presenting the professional careers of Karen and Richard but also the personal struggles that Karen dealt with and her disease. The recording sessions in Herp Albert's studio are very nicely done. However Karen Carpenter turned out, there was a time when she was very special and brought a great deal joy to her fans and music lovers. Even if you weren't a Carpenter's fan this is a nice story that depicts how a great talent can fall victim to the pressures of society.
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