Karen Carpenter remains an enigma in pop music. An international star by the age of 22, her velvety sound and elegant phrasing made her the voice of pop romance in the 1970’s. But by 32, she was gone – felled by a grueling work ethic, and an eating disorder. The Prescott Film Festival presents the moving and cautionary documentary Karen Carpenter: Starving for Perfection, Friday, September 22 at 4 p.m., at the Jim & Linda Lee Performing Arts Center.

As one half of the The Carpenters, Karen began performing as a drummer for her older brother, Richard, while in her teens. Talented and largely self-taught on the drums, she discovered her silky alto voice in the choir at Long Beach State. By 1970, the Carpenters had signed with A&M Records. The title track of their second album, “Close to You,” shot to number one on the Billboard Hot 100, followed by “We’ve Only Just Begun,” at number two. From there, the duo became superstars, with three Grammy awards, three number one singles, sold-out touring schedules and a primetime TV presence on network specials and variety shows throughout the 1970’s.  

“Her music was the music of my childhood,” YC Psychology Professor Laraine Herring said. “It certainly seems like she had a lot of pain, which gave the depth to some of her art. But it didn’t seem like she had anybody whom she could be herself with.”

Starving for Perfection tells both sides of Karen Carpenter’s story: The girl drummer from Downey, CA, whose voice led her and Richard to create iconic love songs, like “Close to You”; “Top of the World,” “Rainy Days & Mondays” and “Superstar”; and the isolated artist whose perfectionism and breakneck workload led her into a cycle of obsessive weight loss and introduced the condition Anorexia Nervosa into popular culture.

Using news footage, and interviews with contemporaries like Olivia Newton-John, Carol Burnett and others, Starving for Perfection captures an artist whose legacy was romantic, heartbreaking and cruelly brief.

Herring says Karen Carpenter’s fame – in the 70s and early 80s – came at a transitional moment in popular culture. “People didn’t understand [anorexia] back then. It’s a very difficult disease to understand, even now. But psychiatrists didn’t know how to talk about it in the ‘70s.” At the same time, the music industry was just beginning to aggressively package its artists, especially women. The pressure to be visible, fashionable (and thin) was reaching unprecedented extremes.

“That’s the double-edged sword of fame.” Today, Herring says, Carpenter would have fared both better and worse. “Conditions like anorexia are more in the open now.” Karen’s own story, among others, has fostered more understanding and better mechanisms of awareness and support. At the same time, the pressure on public figures has only gotten worse. “You have to be on Instagram and Tik Tok. In the age of social media, where everyone has camera phones, her image would be everywhere, and we'd see comments and headlines asking, ‘What's wrong with Karen Carpenter?’”

Starving for Perfection screens at 4 p.m. Friday, September 22, at the Jim & Linda Lee Performing Arts Center. The 99-minute film will be followed by a singalong, with YC Professor of Musical Theater & Acting Nanette Hofer leading a celebration of the Carpenters’ music.

The Prescott Film Festival will be held at the Jim & Linda Lee Performing Arts Center, on the Yavapai College Prescott Campus at 1100 E. Sheldon Street. Films are $14 general admission, with a 50% discount for students, YC employees and OLLI members. The Prescott Film Festival also offers a variety of ticket packages online or at the Jim & Linda Lee Performing Arts Center Ticket Office. Film trailers and a full festival schedule is available on the Prescott Film Festival website,, and the Jim & Linda Lee Performing Arts Center site, For more information, please call: (928) 776.2000, or email: