Director Todd Haynes first gained the attention of underground film enthusiasts with this unusual and thought-provoking look at the life and death of pop singer Karen Carpenter.
In 1970, as America entered a new decade following the turmoil and uncertainties of the 1960s, the Carpenters first hit the charts with glossy, well-scrubbed pop tunes like Close to You and We've Only Just Begun, which suggested a deliberate retreat from the aggressive rebellion that dominated rock music in the late '60s. But while Karen Carpenter and her brother Richard represented all that was good and wholesome about America's youth in the eyes of many (Richard Nixon even invited them to play the White House), there was often a dark and melancholy undercurrent to their music, and it turned out Karen had a troubling secret of her own -- the pressures of stardom and her longtime problems with self-image manifested themselves in a severe case of Anorexia Nervosa, an eating disorder which helped to claim her life in 1983. Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story looks at how Karen's music helped to redefine popular music (for better or worse), as well as how her disease mirrored the darkness that lurked beneath the surface of '70s pop culture, but Todd Haynes' creative vision throws a crucial twist into the tale.
Instead of live actors, most of the key roles in Superstar are played by Barbie or Ken dolls, and while the concept might sound like a mean-spirited joke, in practice the technique adds a strange storybook quality to the material that's compelling and genuinely moving.
Unfortunately, Haynes failed to secure permission from Richard Carpenter and A&M Records for use of the many Carpenters recordings used on the film's soundtrack, and Richard was reportedly offended by his less-than flattering portrayal in the film; consequently, after a handful of film festival screenings, Superstar went into legal limbo, and since Richard's attorneys have prevented any authorized exhibition of the film, it can now be seen only on low-quality bootleg videocassettes.