Where on the Shelf Is...Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story?
Welcome to "Where on the Shelf Is..." In this column, I look at great TV shows and movies that have never been on DVD and/or Blu-ray. For your pleasure and out of all of our frustrations, this column examines the Where, When and, of course, WHY?! of these non-releases.
Up this week is...SUPERSTAR: THE KAREN CARPENTER STORY
What Is It?:
Before Todd Haynes brought forgotten 1950s melodramas to modern audiences with FAR FROM HEAVEN or presented Bob Dylan as both a female and a black adolescent in I'M NOT THERE, he documented the rise, collapse and death of Karen Carpenter, who died at the age of 32 "due to or as a consequence of anorexia nervosa."
Told in 43 minutes and set to a Carpenters-centric soundtrack, SUPERSTAR: THE KAREN CARPENTER STORY was shot while Haynes was at Bard College and turned out to be something like a precursor to E! TRUE HOLLYWOOD STORY, if the series were staged using Barbie dolls.
Where Is It?:
After SUPERSTAR had played several festivals and become something of an underground essential, Karen's brother and vocal partner, Richard Carpenter, got wind of the work. Following a little digging, he found that Haynes never obtained the rights to the Carpenters' catalogue from A&M Records, and so couldn't legally distribute or profit from his film, which used more than 10 of the Grammy-winning band's songs.
Even though other artists whose tracks were used in SUPERSTAR (such as Captain & Tenille and Elton John) had no interest in suing, Carpenter went ahead with his case. Of course, that may also have had something to do with the fact that the film portrayed him as a repressed homosexual and one of the primary reasons for his sister's illness and death.
With such a strong case, Carpenter successfully blocked SUPERSTAR from being theatrically released and, as a result, never being made available on home video.
There was even talk of Mattel, Inc., who owns Barbie (and the hit Atari 2600 game Kool-Aid Man, for what it's worth), filing suit against Haynes, for fear their reputation would be damaged by viewers seeing one of their beloved dolls whittled away with a knife as a visual representation of Carpenter's anorexia. Mattel never went to court and instead opted to remove all credibility themselves with Pooper Scooper Barbie.
When Will We See It?:
Unless the Carpenter estate has a sudden urge to make themselves national laughingstocks, it's extremely unlikely that SUPERSTAR: THE KAREN CARPENTER STORY will ever see a proper home video release.
That's a shame, considering it's a classic of its genre. It even ranked on Time Out's list of the 50 greatest music films ever. Where, you ask? In the number one spot, ahead of Rolling Stones concert movie GIMME SHELTER and Bob Dylan doc DON’T LOOK BACK.
Where Can We See It?:
The Museum of Modern Art has a copy of SUPERSTAR: THE KAREN CARPENTER STORY, but they've agreed with the Carpenter estate not to screen it. Fortunately, YouTube has lower standards and has the short available for streaming.
For those looking to own a physical copy, there are bootlegs available all over the web. Twisted Danger currently has a DVD for just $6.89. Even better, it comes packaged with several short films, including the Oscar-winning SNOW WHITE & THE SEVEN HORNY DWARVES.
Is one of your favorite movies or TV shows not available on DVD or Blu-ray? Leave your suggestions below or shoot me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.