I was obsessed with Sesame Street as a kid. Oscar and Grover were my favourites and I must have watched the film Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird after school everyday cos the VHS tape got munted really fast. I never gave much thought to the people who operated the Muppets as a child (in fact I probably thought that they were real) so when I discovered that Elmo’s Muppet-master was an African American man from Baltimore I was kinda stunned.
Kevin Clash grew up in an area outside of Baltimore referred to as “The Chocolate Factory” (a highly populated African American area). Addicted to TV as a kid, he developed an obsession with Muppets and knew that being a puppeteer was his raison d’etre. He made his first puppet out of the inner lining of his father’s trench-coat, thankfully his father didn’t mind. He started out doing puppet shows for his family, neighbourhood kids and sick children before he was spotted and ended up performing on the local TV station.
With his heart set on New York and working for Jim Henson Kevin managed to make that transition from small town kid (who was bullied for “playing with dolls”) to creating the most popular (and in my opinion, annoying) Muppet ever. His career sees him jetting around the world to visit sick children, hanging out with celebrities on TV shows and traveling to Paris to train the puppeteers who work on the French version of Sesame Street.
The film is not a depressing story of a child overcoming a difficult childhoor or even a story of from rags to riches. Clash came from a modest home and a well adjusted family so there’s not really any conflict in the documentary. The film is pretty wholesome and sweet the whole way through, taking a sombre tone only once during the subject of Henson’s death at the age of 52.
Being Elmo is a documentary that shows that with the love of a craft and a determination to succeed anything is possible. It’s also touching to see that an adult can still embrace the magic of childhood without being all Michael Jackson about it. The film is probably not going to be of any interest to young Elmo fans but for budding puppeteers and Sesame Street fanatics it’s worth checking out.
As for special features there’s: Selections From Q&A Following Sundance Film Festival Premierwhich runs for approx 9 mins and is a Q&A with Clash and the directors; John Tartaglia Tony Award Nominee “Avenue Q” a 6 minute interview; Some Thoughts From the Filmmakers (13 mins) mostly interviews although there’s some deleted scenes and extended interviews; Tau Bennett Performs in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (4 mins) a clip of Clash’s protégé performing; and finally a theatrical trailer to round out the set.
- Selections From Q&A Following Sundance Film Festival Premier
- John Tartaglia Tony Award Nominee “Avenue Q”
- Some Thoughts From the Filmmakers
- Tau Bennett Performs in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
- Theatrical Trailer
Available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.