Friday, May 18, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: Being Elmo - A Puppeteer's Journey (2011)

On CarlaB's recommendation, Jamie and I watched Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey (2011), an award-winning documentary about Kevin Clash, the puppeteer behind ubiquitous kiddie icon, Elmo, the red muppet with the laugh of a madman.

I don't really know what to say about the doc.  Its already won a truckload of awards, and I would argue that its a pretty darn good movie and absolutely worth seeing.  A sort of "for the whole family" type of film, and one that I would show any kid with a creative bent.

Clash's journey from lower-class America to the most famous name in showbiz you've never heard of is absolutely remarkable, as a kid pursues his passion and turns it into something loved by kids around the world. In some ways, however, its a story of a guy who sets our to fulfill his dreams, and, indeed, he does, with a minimum of challenge.

I'm not saying Clash didn't have challenges, but they aren't really covered in the context of the movie, even when you understand that something must have happened (neither his marriage nor divorce are covered, just an ex-wife and daughter whom he clearly adores).  Maybe there's more than enough to cover, and maybe getting into the grittiness of the troubled soul that spawned Elmo wasn't the narrative they wanted, or, more likely, Clash hasn't exactly had a terribly complicated life where the grim details are actually all that interesting.  What's interesting is his shared history with the Henson Co., Captain Kangaroo and others.  As a guy of the age to have grown up on Captain Kangaroo, The Great Space CoasterThe Muppets, Sesame Street, Labyrinth and much of what Clash cut his teeth on, its pretty remarkable.

It would have been nice to have seen something like this when I was a young, idealistic kid, but one who quite literally thought that "stuff happens to other people", and it was hard to imagine how one makes a career or life, or, more... what you can give back with something like Sesame Street.  Anyway, I'm glad it exists.

Suffice it to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the doc.  Give it a whirl.  Its currently streaming on Netflix.


Steven said...

I really enjoyed this as well. It was pretty interesting at through his journey you saw the line of that ugly that moved HensonCo through several creative phases.

And while you might get taunted for a love of comics or Magic, the endurance required of a teen would-be puppeteer is astounding.

The League said...

Yeah, I was wondering about that. I have some reference as I was friendly with a teen-puppeteer when I was in middle school. He made his own puppets, etc... But of course I never had a reference for whether or not that had an impact. He wasn't a shy or reserved guy, though. He was a theater arts guy, and so it all just sort of fit in with who he was. But, that was also white bread suburbia.

But pretty clearly, Clash had family and other support, and it tells you a lot about what that sort of influence means.