Pictured Above: Kevin Clash introduces Sesame Street superstar Elmo to a young fan
Published: 26 April, 2012
by DAN CARRIER
His big staring eyes, his cuddly red fur, and his ludicrous excuses for hands: Sesame Street’s Elmo is the George Clooney of the puppet world, with a face that is as instantly recognisable as any leading man in Hollywood.
This film tells the story of the man who crouches behind a sofa and makes Elmo move.
Kevin Clash was something of a teenage genius.
He was utterly absorbed from the age of 10 with the skill of puppeteering.
He made his own puppets in his bedroom at the back of his parents’ run-down bungalow in Baltimore, and would then spend every minute when not studying hard at school perfecting their voices, and learning the art of ventriloquism, to bring his creations alive.
He was discovered by small-town TV station Channel Two and then blagged his way on to Sesame Street.
Making friends with the legendary Jim Henson, this young working class man quickly found the stage for his incredible talents, and has now spent a lifetime designing, making and operating some of the most recognisable furry faces in the world.
Being Elmo follows his journey from TV shows such as Captain Kangaroo through to the Street, and also covers his work on such puppet features as Labyrinth.
It is littered with great behind-the-scenes footage of life on Sesame Street and The Muppets.
We are also treated to archive footage featuring the likes of Henson and Frank Oz.
Even for those who find puppets a little creepy this documentary captures a time of 1970s New York creativity that brings us a fascinating piece of social history, and goes some way to consider and explain the programme’s popularity.
Chris says that for the first time, here was a children’s show that truly reflected the world he – and therefor the viewers – lived in, a street stocked with the marvellous multicultural melting pot of New York at the time.
What quickly becomes apparent is that being a puppeteer is much more than shoving your hand up a hairy backside and making squeaky noises.
This is very physical theatre, and watching the Sesame Street crew train and rehearse underlines the brilliance and creativity that goes into making their characters such a global hit.
It looks exhausting, and you need the body of a contortionist to keep out of shot, too.
Being Elmo is a very sweet documentary about a very nice person. The only downside is it could have been shorter and still had the same amount of charm.
Some gushing talking heads (“wow, Jim Henson is God” type of stuff) could easily have been left on the cutting room floor.
But this is a minor gripe. Being Elmo is a charming documentary about a charming subject.