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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

In praise of the superstar: The story of Karen Carpenter

FOr a movie made almost entirely of “Barbie-sized dolls,” there’s astonishing humanity in Todd Haynes’ Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story. In one sentence, the film follows the life of musician Karen Carpenter, from the beginning of her singing career to her death on February 4, 1983, from ipecac poisoning. It packs a lot into its 43-minute runtime, which flirts with figurative theory, music. , historical satire, ridicule, fan tributes, eating disorder pedagogy, and horror cinema, to name just a few ideas. It takes the form of a tapestry of recreated newsreels, staged talking head interviews, campy PSA videos, and of course, doll-sized plays from Carpenter’s turbulent life. Haynes sometimes called the film a docudrama, and Barbara Kruger laughed at her initial Artforum review, calling it a “doll-you-play”. The genre is up for debate if it has one, but Haynes’ film is often combined with the experimental documentary tradition, making it the most interesting platform to examine.

In many ways, Superstar is cinema’s smartest exploration of the female celebrity experience—one that opposes totality, over-determining, and mapping preconceived narratives as events unfold. Unlike the current proliferation of celebrity documentaries from the past few years, Superstar stands alone as the pinnacle of storytelling ingenuity.

Part of the superstar’s eternal allure is its notoriety and elusiveness, due to its short-lived public life and eventual ban. Todd Haynes made the film as an MFA student at Bard College, and it enjoyed a successful run in New York’s experimental film circuit. But Richard Carpenter caught wind of Superstar and submitted three cease-and-desist letters for unauthorized use of The Carpenter’s music. The film was later taken out of circulation and forced underground, where it established itself as a cult favorite at illegal group screenings. The film became an illegal classic, and it became common practice to make VHS copies of the originals, copies of those copies, etc. Eventually, it was quietly resold in DVD format before being transferred digitally and uploaded to the Internet. Today Superstar exists as a perfect simulacrum, as a film that does not exist in its original form or quality and as the film has survived through a series of hasty repetitions, its integrity only continues to dwindle. Almost every copy represents a poor reproduction, with a lower audiovisual quality than its original copy. This is a film that has actually been loved to pieces by its fans.

Finding a copy of the superstar to watch is a unique challenge in itself. Currently, you can see this Youtube with Portuguese SubtitlesFeather Dailymotion with frequent interruptions by DiGiorno pizza commercials, and on internet archive, Of the four or so YouTube uploads, at least two appear to be uploads from the same mother copy. On them, VHS is oversaturated and the characters look surreal, scattered and degraded. Still, all the noise in the midst of Karen’s sadness clears up as day. have a copy It’s completely different, with a more pronounced steady hiss in gray. One can only imagine how different it took before coming to Youtube.

And what about the bootleg viewing experience? Depending on who you ask, this can be frustrating or liberating. At times, it seems as though you are viewing a filter; That there is a physical and aesthetic distance between you and the doll. Film academic Lucas Hilderbrand, the leading expert on all things superstar, writes that the experience of watching a superstar is “a constant conversation of your own perceptual attention”, as you are forced to decide whether on action or visual distortion. Whether to focus or not and messy audio. On another level, there’s probably no better way to describe and imagine the trauma of anorexia than in a film that physically degrades itself. This cinematic disintegration complements Karen’s own waste on screen. The audiovisual information fades away and so does Karen’s body.

But of course, we’re not dealing with Karen’s actual body or even a straight human representation. From the outset, Haynes understood the challenges that came with making a film about the life of Karen Carpenter; i.e. representing death, anorexia and celebrity. Her decision to use plastic dolls allays many of these concerns, or still highlights her problems. in 1989 movie danger In the interview, Haynes explained that he wanted to “stimulate the same kind of recognition and investment in the narrative as any real film,” hoping that “this emotional involvement in dolls or something completely artificial” would give viewers his Will force them to reflect on their own character identity. , As a plastic actress, Karen portrays actions that the human Karen Carpenter would have embodied in some real sense, but never actually acted in front of a camera. As a Barbie, she becomes full of speculative and suggestive qualities that would not be afforded to a human actor.

The doll figure is a very productive item. In Karen’s case in Superstar, she becomes many things: a poster child for anorexia, a cautionary tale, an older woman with little control over her own life, and a figure controlled by media narratives of her own. As a real celebrity, Karen was an object of consumption. Fans watched her slim down between TV shows and concerts, as they speculated about her disordered eating. In several scenes in Superstar, Karen sees herself performing in front of the TV. In an instant she even says, “I looked really fat!” It’s ridiculous to see a Barbie doll—whose anatomy has long been the subject of criticism—complain about its weight. But Haynes soon blows the air out of the moment, sculpting Karen’s cheekbones and beautiful figure, as the film goes on to repeat her descent into disordered eating.

Superstar is enduringly influential because of the way it dramatizes, reconstructs and reshapes the celebrity documentary genre. Much of the film is speculative reenactments or fabricated conversations on the general timeline of Karen’s career and illness. There are moments, for example, in which Haynes said that Karen’s brother Richard is gay and that his parents were abusive. At other junctures, there are inexplicable scenes of a doll being beaten up. Presented without explanation, these scenes introduce ambiguity into Karen’s life, hinting to the audience that there are things about Karen that we will never really know. As such, this documentary breaks with narrative conventions that try to paint well-organized, linear portraits of our favorite celebrities and explain all the nuances of their lives.

In the past few years alone, such documentaries have increased dramatically, seeking to capitalize on established admirers of female celebrities and use the unapologetic genre for fraudulent purposes. There are movies about celebrities like Taylor Swift (Miss). americana), which provides narrative control to the subjects themselves and opens the door to seamless PR building. Others, like Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil, sell themselves on their unfiltered accessibility that allows celebrities to tell their own stories. And there are movies about rising stars like Billie Eilish (The World’s a Little Blurry) and Olivia Rodrigo (Driving Home 2 U) that see those celebrities as mythologies who in the past deserved such screen time. It can happen very early in your career. Movies like this are obsessed with the venture of star-making as well as setting up new dolls to play with.

Although many music documentaries feature celebrities about their personal lives or claim to provide intimate access to fans, others do not. Some are more stingy and speculative, risking exploiting the very people they are supposed to protect. Such features, like framing Britney Spears and What Happened Britney Murphy?, take a magnifying glass into the lives of so-called “troubled women.” Even when they are claiming to be helpful, they know that the audience loves watching a train.

As such, his intention is not as important as what these movies feed on. Best of all, they are popular because of the relentless public desire to know everything about the inner lives of these women. At worst, these films are successful because they quench their bloodthirsty for stories of fallen stars and new celebrities, uncertain subjects whose staying power has yet to be established.

Conversely, Superstar shows us that we can never fully know these women, and asks us why we might seek out in the first place. And when the movie is playing on your laptop—the only real way you can watch it these days—and it turns black, you leave yourself staring at the reflection, caught in your own gaze. Of course, video links would be broken, copyrights enforced, and the eternal daisy chain of digital reproductions would continue. The process is eternal and indestructible. And like the plastic doll Karen, the superstar will live on forever.

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Reference from lwlies.com

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