Tuesday, December 7, 2010


 I think superstar was by far one of the unique films I have ever seen. Unlike mainstream biographical specials aired on television, this film took biographies of celebrities to a whole new level. Haynes used both barbies and real footage of people, buildings, television shows etc. To narrate an unglamorous and rather accurate story of Karen Carpenter’s rise to fame, fight with anorexia and her eventual death. The use of barbie dolls enabled Haynes to do two things: have ultimate control over the bodies of his ‘performers’ (Desjardins, 33) and provide us (the audience) with an alternative objective and abstract portrayal of Karen’s life.

Similarities between Barbie & Anorexic bodies
    By using barbie dolls, Haynes was able to take on the role of the hegemonic control of Hollywood. Due to the ubiquitous nature of media the message being instilled into our minds is ‘thin is beautiful’ so, with the rise to fame, Karen was expected to adhere to Hollywood’s standards, especially, if she wanted to stay in the spotlight. This marked the beginning of Karen’s long battle with anorexia since “the processes and achievement of stardom and anorexia each involve discipline, surveillance, and hyper-visualization of the body, the conceptualization of perfection and the attainment of ideas” (Desjardins, 32). Haynes, playing the hegemonic force controlling Karen used this “unlimited power over his ‘performers’ bodies by somewhat aggressively (cutting [and] burning) the dolls thus calling attention to and critiquing how little power female stars have [over their own bodies]” (Desjardins, 33).

We can see their faces to reveal emotions we can relate to
    “The film’s use of dolls and dollhouses suggest that the staging of identity can simultaneously reify the subject and engage her in a death-in-life process” (Desjardins, 28). This reminded me of the musical Broadway ‘The Lion King’. Large masks were created so that the audience could recognize each character. But, to connect with them on an emotional level and to present a more realistic portrayal of the story, the masks were purposely made not to conceal the face, but rather to reveal human qualities and facial expressions. This, in a sense, provides the audiences an alternative and perhaps more emotive form of telling the story.

    Unlike the Lion King, which used masks to help portray a more conventional story line in which we can relate to the characters, Haynes uses props, doll animation and live action featuring ‘real people’ and presents them through an artisanal mode of production thus playing with the conventions of documentary, biopic, and woman’s film (Desjardins, 37). He did this so that we (the audience) would engage with the film through an objective point of view rather than be coaxed to identify with the characters and their ideologies through conventional narratives (Desjardins, 44) the way Hollywood does. However, in addition to coaxing us to relate to the characters Hollywood would take the conventional narrative a step further by somehow making this tragic story end on a more positive note and make sure that the industry itself is not blamed for the death of Karen Carpenter. So as one can see, Haynes use of barbie dolls not only enabled him to present an accurate story, but it helped him reveal a dark side of Hollywood.

Work Cited List:
Desjardins, Mary. "The Incredible Shrinking Star: Todd Haynes and the Case History of Karen Carpenter." Camera Obscura 
           57. Ed. Andrea Fontenot . North Carolina, United States: Duke University Press , 2004. Print. 

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