Superstar: the Karen Carpenter Story

This was just amazing and inspiring and the coolest thing ever.

I’ve been a fan of Todd Haynes for a while — I loved Velvet Goldmine and I’m Not There and listening to him talk in The Celluloid Closet, but I finally got around to listening to the episode of WTF where he gets interviewed, and decided to really explore his back catalogue, starting at the beginning.

This thing is just so cool. It’s a forty minute story about Karen Carpenter with the majority of the action taking place using Barbie dolls instead of actors. It’s phenomenal.

At some point you forget you’re watching Barbies. It doesn’t matter that they’re dolls, you’re invested in the story that’s being told. It’s really emotional. I’m not huge into the Carpenters, and was only vaguely familiar with the story, but this really made me care. It’s great storytelling.

Everything is so well shot and lit, which is even more impressive when you remember the scale he’s working on. There’s a scene where they talk with the record executive in his office, and light is coming in through some blinds in a really ominous way, and it’s super effective, a great image. And then you remember that somehow he managed to get that effect while working with Barbie dolls.

Part of my appreciation comes from the fact that I love Barbies, and I know their limitations. There’s a scene where Karen is recording a song, and her hand comes up to her face, which is a very natural movement for a human being. But to get that shot he must be using two Barbies, or maybe one doll and an extra arm, because they don’t bend that way. Yet the movement is absolutely convincing, that she’s singing and bringing her arm up to her face. It’s well planned and executed flawlessly.

This is the sort of weird shit that is so appealing to my sensibilities. It’s honestly inspiring. I still have a lot of my childhood Barbies, and actually just bought a new one. She’s curvy and has blue hair, and I couldn’t resist her at Target. Now I want to make a movie about all of her adventures.

It isn’t only Barbies though. There are talking head interviews, and establishing shots, and some stock footage mixed in. The Barbies are used to carry the central narrative, but there’s a lot more going on.

This isn’t just a movie about Karen Carpenter, it’s also about how anorexia is linked to the policing of women’s bodies. It’s beautiful feminist art. I loved it.

It was so weird, and so smart, and so ridiculous. I love that I live in a world where this exists. It makes me feel better about the universe as a whole. It’s on youtube, go experience this masterpiece for yourself.

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writing about film

When I started this blog last summer the goal was to write at least 100 words about every book I read and every movie I watch. This is not a hard task at all, it’s something I am completely capable of doing. I’m constantly behind, but whatever, that’s to be expected. Lately my problem has been that writing about books has been way easier than writing about movies.

I love film, I love reading and writing and being nerdy about it, but writing down simple 100 word bubbles about a movie doesn’t come as easy. This shouldn’t be surprising. I’ve had to do significantly more writing about literature than film. I’ve been writing about books forever, that’s second nature. Writing about movies is harder? Or at least it’s felt harder lately?

Or maybe not harder, but like, less inspiring. I’ve been less interested in writing about movies. When this happens with books it’s a sign that I should be reading more interesting books, but I’ve really enjoyed the movies I’ve seen lately. I’ve gone to the theater three times in the last two weeks, and enjoyed all three films. I have thoughts to share! But putting them down into a blog post feels challenging.

This is just me complaining. I’m going to keep on going the way I have been. If things stay the same maybe I’ll re-evaluate how I’m writing about movies, I don’t know. I need to remember this blog is an adventure, not a chore. Ignore me.

Innocents and Others by Dana Spiotta

Oh god, I loved this so much. I’m a huge film nerd when given the opportunity, and this was so good for me, and it really made me want to watch like, art movies, which my partner really does not appreciate. Or other movies too, just really good ones.

It isn’t really a book about film though — it’s about friendship, and about women. The male characters don’t matter all that much — I like them fine, but all of the stories belong to women, different, messed up, fascinating women. The central relationship is between Meadow and Carrie, childhood best friends who grow up to be very different sorts of filmmakers. They aren’t always close, and they don’t always see eye to eye, but their relationship was so formative to the kind of people they would become that it’s always going to matter, it’s a bond that can never fully disintegrate. They’re making very different sorts of movies, but their work is still in conversation, different takes on how a female director is going to react to the patriarchal film cannon.

I loved reading the descriptions of the different movies they made, and the reactions their films received. Writing about film — using words to translate something with movement and vision — is hard enough. Inventing the films entirely and coming up with something understandable is a challenge that Spiotta meets exceptionally well.

Meadow is a documentarian, and the subjects of her films add another aspect to the novel. The story of one of these subjects, Jelly, is a thread running throughout the story. Jelly’s story plays with ideas about vision and hearing. Temporarily blinded, Jelly became involved in the world of phone phreaking. Later on she creates a whole life calling strangers on the phone, building relationships with men but never revealing her true identity. Jelly’s love of movies, and the importance of being a cinema goer to her life, unities her story with Meadow and Carrie’s. She isn’t making her own movies, but she’s fascinated by that world.

It’s a book about women creating things, telling stories, about themselves, about other people. It was inspiring. It made me want to create interesting art, and experience good art, and hold onto the women friends I’ve grown up with. I loved it. It was a hard book to put down, and it gave me a lot to think about. This is basically everything I am looking for in a novel.

Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi

First things first: this is a really fun science fiction novel. We need to remember that this is the most important thing. If it wasn’t a good book the rest of the things wouldn’t be worth getting excited about.

Fortunately it’s great, and there are so many things to get excited about! The main character is a queer disabled woman of color. There’s polyamorous relationships! There are found family feelings! There is exactly one man in the entire thing, and he is a werewolf!

The world building is fascinating, and very well thought out. It does some things I can’t remember seeing before in a capitalist dystopia. The way the mystical elements worked along the sci-fi was really good.

I enjoyed. You where you know where it’s going all time, but the sexual tension is so good, and the resolution is great. It gets just the right amount of steamy. Plus, it’s a romance about queer ladies, which is supremely beautiful.

Koyanagi created something really cool, and definitely has a voice worth paying attention to. I really enjoyed this novel, and am interested in what else she comes up with.

Soulless by Gail Carriger

This was fun but not very much. It’s a regency romance novel with vampires and werewolves and evil steampunk science. It’s a wonderful mishmash of very enjoyable tropes. The love story swept me up, and it’s steamy in the right places. The heroine is a strong woman who doesn’t need a man, but falls in love anyway. It subverts some romance novel conventions, leans into others. I had a great time with this book. I’m probably going to read all the sequels. It is also in no way essential.

If it sounds like your jam you’re going to have a blast. It’s the sort of book I imagine would be very fun to read floating on a lake. I can’t imagine myself rereading this, or even spending a lot of time thinking about it, but it’s a solid romp.

i don’t like people who are younger than me who seem to know what they’re doing with their life

and i don’t like people who are older than me who think they know what i should be doing with my life

and to be honest, i really don’t like people, like, at all, hardly ever

which sometimes makes life hard

but whatever

there are a few people i love

and that’s enough

fuck what the rest of the world says

the things i can not change

which vastly outnumber the things i can

grant me the wisdom to know the difference.

 

today does not have to be a bad day

today can start to get better right now

i’m on the brink of another beautiful positive summer.

Tangled

Sometimes my girlfriend and I watch kind of lousy animated movies together. I had never seen this, and for some reason she wanted to see it again? I’m not really sure why? I don’t think she was either? It isn’t very good. It isn’t bad exactly, but it’s just… not very much. I like the idea of a Rapunzel retelling that gives her more agency, and this definitely does some good things, but it doesn’t quite succeed. They made Rapunzel a princess instead of the daughter of normal folks, which I really don’t like. It’s gross, and also leads to some lazy storytelling. Flynn is one of the better Disney love interests, mostly because he has some actual characteristics, he isn’t just “charming” in the blandest way. His relationship with Rapunzel is the strongest part of the movie. It makes me get invested in their connection, and really shows how they fall for each other, with some nice banter, as well as singing platitudes at each other. The songs are uniformly lackluster. There were two that are kind of alright, but it’s mostly forgettable. At least none of it is particularly annoying. If I was a parent and my kid got fixated on this it wouldn’t be the end of the world. I don’t regret watching it, but there are probably better ways I could have used my time.