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In praise of Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story

For a film made almost entirely with “Barbie-sized dolls”, Todd Haynes’ Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story has surprising humanity. In a sentence, the film follows the life of musician Karen Carpenter, from the beginning of her singing career to her death by ipecac poisoning on February 4, 1983. It packs a lot into its 43-minute runtime, flirting with semiotic theory, musical, historical satire, mockumentary, fan tribute, eating disorder pedagogy, and horror cinema, to name just a few ideas. It takes the form of a tapestry of repurposed newsreels, staged talking head interviews, campy PSA videos, and of course, doll-sized dramatizations of Carpenter’s turbulent life. Haynes called the film a docudrama at times, and Barbara Kruger laughingly called it a “doll-u-drama” in her early Artforum review. The genre is up for debate if it has one at all, but Haynes’ film is most often lumped in with the experimental documentary tradition, which is the most interesting forum to examine it within… read more >

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