Friday, October 21, 2011

“Being Elmo” – Movie Review



This week in my movie class, we saw the new documentary narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, “Being Elmo:  A Puppeteer’s Journey” – the story of Kevin Clash, the puppeteer who made “Sesame Street”’s Elmo puppet an immensely popular character on the TV show.   



Growing up in a Baltimore suburb, Kevin Clash was fascinated by both puppets and puppetry.  Watching various children's shows on television,  he wondered what it would be like to not only make the puppets he saw but to operate them as well.  Something of a precocious child, he made his first puppet by cutting out the lining of his father’s good overcoat to use as the fur for his monkey-like construction.  Rather than punishing him for what Kevin did, his parents encouraged him – and it was their loving support that put him well on his way to being a professional puppeteer.

After performing his collection of original puppets for children at schools, hospitals and churches, Kevin finally auditioned for a local TV show upon graduation from high school and won the job.  Soon, his puppet characters became among the most popular parts of a children’s show.  As he became better known for his talents, he moved to New York City to work as a puppeteer on Captain Kangaroo.  Shortly thereafter, an even bigger break occurred when he got to meet his idol, Jim Henson, creator of The Muppets. 

Eventually, Kevin got his dream job of becoming a puppeteer for The Muppets on “Sesame Street”.  One of the secondary puppet characters, a red furry monster named Elmo, was unable to find much time on the show.  When the original puppeteer gave up because he couldn’t find a the right personality for Elmo, Kevin took it over and developed Elmo as a gentle, childlike character always in search of friendship, acceptance and love.  Before too long, the character gained an enormous following among the children who watched Sesame Street and resulted in Kevin reaching worldwide fame and success. 



Everyone has heard of “Sesame Street”.  Most people have heard of its Elmo puppet.  But how many people know Kevin Clash?  Clash was the puppeteer responsible for breathing life into this character and without him, it is likely that the Elmo puppet would be a long-forgotten figure hanging on the wall of The Muppet’s workshop.  In providing Elmo with a unique personality, Clash inevitably wound up imbuing the puppet with many of his own characteristics as well.  As we see in “Being Elmo”, Clash can owe much of this to his family – including and especially his loving and supportive parents. 

“Being Elmo” is nothing short of a magical and inspirational true story about a little boy that grew up to live his dream.  Not only do I recommend you see this movie, but I also recommend that if you know a kid, then by all means, bring him or her when you go.  If you think you wouldn’t love watching a documentary – and if you especially think that children wouldn’t enjoy a documentary -- “Being Elmo” will prove you wrong on both counts. 

Prior to the screening, filmmaker Constance Marks was interviewed by our instructor.  She said that it took her a total of seven years to get this documentary made because of the fact that financing kept dropping out at various points along the way.  Following the screening, Kevin Clash was interviewed; as you might well expect, he also brought along with him the Elmo puppet and he gladly put on quite a show at the end of the evening.  Seeing Clash perform live and in an unscripted, spontaneous environment such as this, his talent is quite obvious and you find yourself marveling not only at that, but at his considerable gifts as a showman as well. 


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