l. Todd Haynes, Superstar


Todd Haynes
1988, 43 min, 19 sec

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story is a 1987 American experimental short biographical film that portrays the last 17 years of singer Karen Carpenter’s life, as she struggled with anorexia. Directed by Todd Haynes, the film uses Barbie dolls as actors, as well as documentaries and artistic footage. Superstar was co-written and co-produced by Haynes and Cynthia Schneider, with an unauthorized soundtrack consisting mostly of the hit songs of The Carpenters. It was filmed over a ten-day period at Bard College in the summer of 1985. Barry Ellsworth collaborated on the film and was the cinematographer for the Barbie themed interior segments of the film.

The film was withdrawn from circulation in 1990 after Haynes lost a copyright infringement lawsuit filed by Karen’s brother and musical collaborator, Richard Carpenter. The film’s title is derived from The Carpenters’ 1971 hit, “Superstar”. Meanwhile, over the years Superstar has developed into a cult film, has notably been bootlegged, and is included in Entertainment Weeklys 2003 list of top 50 cult movies. Its apparent metamodern purpose as a film, including multiple perspectives on anorexia nervosa, the pop music industry, The Carpenters themselves, and the definition of a biographical film, has also given it a legacy among fans of avant-garde cinema; Guy Lodge, writing for The Guardian, expressed that ‘while Haynes is working in a vein of very rich irony, there’s not a hint of snark here’.