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.