Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools
Sections

Commentaries on this Media!

Self-Control: The Construction of the Celebrity Image in the Films of Todd Haynes

by Michelle Robinson

The clips in this student project explore Todd Haynes’ representation of self-control as it relates to the construction of the celebrity image. The director not only explores the ways in which a celebrity image is built – and the ways it can be both constructive and destructive for the artist – but also audience reaction and how celebrity image is received. Additional commentaries will be provided by students in the course “The Film Director as Public Intellectual” at UNC Chapel Hill (Spring 2014).

Self-Control: The Construction of the Celebrity Image in the Films of Todd Haynes

by Michelle Robinson

The clips in this student project explore Todd Haynes’ representation of self-control as it relates to the construction of the celebrity image. The director not only explores the ways in which a celebrity image is built – and the ways it can be both constructive and destructive for the artist – but also audience reaction and how celebrity image is received. Additional commentaries will be provided by students in the course “The Film Director as Public Intellectual” at UNC Chapel Hill (Spring 2014).

Who Controls the Star's Body?

by Kristen Scheckelhoff

Todd Haynes’s film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story gives a semi-fictionalized account of the rise to fame and the sudden death of 1970s pop singer Karen Carpenter. Karen’s struggle with anorexia nervosa is depicted as the result of a conflict between her own interests, family pressures, and public expectations, as she attempts to construct her celebrity image.

The phone call scene in the middle of this clip draws attention to these many conflicting factors, as Karen waffles between wanting to get help and wanting to stay popular. Her popularity hinges on maintaining the “ideal” image, which in Western pop culture often translates to “thin.” The lead-in to the phone call is a disorienting montage of frames, showing a hand repeatedly reaching for an Ex-Lax box on a shelf. This montage is accompanied by a static-y sound suggestive of the clicking of a camera, which draws attention to the influence of public opinion and paparazzi on her spiral into anorexia. Her “every change in body fat was being discussed worldwide.” (1) A voiceover of the start of Karen’s phone call to fellow anorectic Cherry Boone-O’Neill links the two shots together, suggesting that Karen doesn’t really want to get better. She is pursuing something that would likely improve her health and extend her career as a pop star, while simultaneously continuing the destructive behavior associated with her stardom.

The entire phone call takes place within a static, medium shot which employs the split-screen phone call trope: the frame is divided with a diagonal slash, showing both callers on screen. Karen’s side of the screen is darker, with a cool tonal range, while Cherry’s side contains more light and warmer hues. Karen is literally in a dark place as she struggles with anorexia, while Cherry has taken the necessary steps to recover. Since Haynes used costumed dolls for all of his visual actors, all impressions of characterization must be drawn from mise-en-scene and sound – viewers cannot pick up on body language. Only a slight twitching of the dolls as the characters are speaking indicates which is which, and that they are meant to represent live people. The substitution of a doll for Karen Carpenter in the film, as well as the conflict over ownership of Karen’s likeness, story, and voice (as evidenced by the legal battle surrounding the film), “expose the tensions under which the star body in biographical representation performs its work in capitalist, patriarchal culture.” (2)

__________________________

(1) MacDonald, Scott. “From Underground to Multiplex: An Interview with Todd Haynes.” Film Quarterly (Spring 2009): Volume 62, Number 3. p57.

(2) Desjardins, Mary. “The Incredible Shrinking Star: Todd Haynes and the Case History of Karen Carpenter.” Camera Obscura 57 (2004): Volume 19, Number 3. p28.

We have obligations

by Karen Sieber

Todd Haynes cult classic Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story is an experimental short film that recreates the life of singer Karen Carpenter and her struggle with anorexia. Haynes use of Barbie and Ken dolls to act out the drama not only got around budget and casting problems, but it also makes a statement about celebrity and body image by the fact that Barbie dolls have unrealistic proportions yet are simultaneously seen as the ideal female form. Throughout the film, and visible in this clip, is the fact that Haynes actually shaved down the Barbie as Karen lost weight. This clip shows how other people contribute to Karen Carpenter’s self image and problem with anorexia. Rather than being concerned with her health and well-being, her brother and mother only seem concerned with the celebrity image of Karen Carpenter, and how that image reflects badly upon the Carpenters as a group. No one seems to express any interest in the private Karen. It is as if they are 2 separate people. In fact, in the opening part of this scene, a promotional photo of “The Carpenters” can be seen hanging behind Karen during the conversation, which further shows the dual roles she is trying to fit into. Her brother tells her that taking a break to seek treatment is not convenient for him. He mentions they have contracts they have to fulfill, and blames her for a previous “setback” six years ago. Rather than expressing any actual emotional concern for his sister, Richard says that her fans are talking about her and worried. Throughout this scene, Karen is seen in darkness in the corner. Nowhere in the scene does anyone ever ask her how she is feeling, or how they can help. There is no show of love from the family. After she tells her family her plans to go to New York to seek medical help for her anorexia, her family is critical of her decision. Karen uses the words ”I know that you are all are concerned and won’t like being excluded from my recovery”, yet you never hear those words coming from her family members. It is her way of interjecting non-existent concern from them, taking control of how she wants her family to perceive her and react to her illness.

"I have to do this alone."

This clip from "Superstar: the Karen Carpenter Story" shows how other people contribute to the singer's self image and anorexia.

from Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987)
Creator: Todd Haynes
Distributor: ???
Posted by Michelle Robinson
Keywords
Options