12 April 2012

Documentary: Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1787660/

This documentary is about Kevin Clash, the man behind Sesame Street's Elmo. It tells of his humble beginnings in Baltimore, the impact of his seeing Sesame Street, how he was drawn to puppetry early in life, how he got started, how he ended up working for his idol Jim Henson, how he came to operate Elmo, and beyond. Pretty much the beginnings to now story.
If you know anything about Jim Henson's start in puppetry you'll easily spot the parallels in Kevin's story. It is also amazing to see how much Kevin made his own way before he started working with Henson. It wasn't at all easy for Kevin, he worked hard to get where he is, and parts of his life suffered for his dedication.
I did get the sense that there is probably a lot of stuff that didn't make it in to the documentary, probably to keep the overall feel of the film positive. I suppose there is plenty of time years from now to cover such things if that's even necessary. Perhaps by just hinting and not going in depth it is actually refreshing compared with the banal screeds emanating from sources like TMZ and E!.

It's a great watch. Well put together. It has some amazing historic footage, especially the film clips of  Kevin meeting Kermit Love, the amazing puppet builder, for the first time. It has interviews with not only Kevin's family but other recognizable folks, including the greats of old-school muppeteers like Frank Oz and Carroll Spinney. The documentary is narrated by Whoopi Goldberg.
There was also one part that's probably going to bring tears to many a viewer's eyes, especially those folks who grew up loving Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. This many years later and it is still  moving.

I came away with even greater appreciation for the man behind Elmo. As I'm of the old-school Sesame Street generation I was always a bit resistant and grumbly about Elmo's star rising above the traditional muppet cast I grew up loving, but after this I can't help but admire Elmo's place in the Sesame Street universe. Well deserved, Elmo and Kevin.

I watched this documentary on the PBS Series Independent Lens. It is also currently available on Netflix if you are interested.

Bonus: Captain Kangaroo 

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