Thinking of Elmo, you’ll most likely picture him on tv, singing with his friends, or as a stuffed version on a shelf, waiting to be purchased for a lucky toddler. It’s safe to say, not many people think about the man behind one of the world’s most recognized and loved characters. Director Constance Marks did though and so a truly unique and endearing documentary was born. Kristy Hutter reviews Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey.
Constance Marks’ idea for this film was brilliant. There is no question that a documentary about the man who created and, to this day, plays Elmo on Sesame Street is unique. But the idea isn’t the only ingredient to the success of Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey. The other element is a loveable main subject. And Kevin Clash is just that. The film chronicles his early beginnings as a young puppeteer and later, how he reinvents a discarded puppet into a world famous sensation.
A young Clash had an unlikely obsession growing up. He dreamt of one day making it big as a puppet master, stuffing and sewing his own furry friends in a rough Baltimore neighbourhood where he was raised by his supportive parents. When he finally broke out onto the scene (children’s television, that is), people immediately recognized his fervor for the craft. That passion landed him a couple of gigs working with the Muppets.
It’s hard to imagine Elmo without his signature raspy, high-pitched intonation, but before Kevin Clash was inducted into Jim Henson’s Sesame Street’s posse, the furry red monster sounded like an old man. Its original owner – veteran Muppet master Richard Hunt – threw our little fuzzy friend aside. Clash picked it up, gave it a new identity (including a higher-pitched voice) and Elmo soon became one of the most recognized characters on television, known for his main trait: being loveable.
Throughout the film, we see Clash struggle trying to make it in an odd, yet tough, industry and when he finally makes it, he still isn’t recognized – mostly because his alias is a puppet. But what makes this man so interesting is the fact that his life’s work is dedicated to being ‘someone’ else. The many interviewees (such as Rosie O’Donnell, Whoopi Goldberg, Frank Oz, and Joan Ganz Cooney) all claim he comes alive when he’s controlling his puppets. The idea of being at one’s best while imitating an invented character is intriguing, to say the least.
I believe that the essence of a solid documentary is in the origin of the idea. How a filmmaker becomes inspired to dedicate her blood, sweat and tears (not to mention a couple of years, at least) to a project that may or may not succeed is fascinating. Through a series of archival footage, photos, and present-day interviews, Marks and her quirky idea to make a film about the man behind Elmo has definitely proven successful. Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey is as feel-good as films get.
As an added bonus, you’ll be smiling from ear to ear throughout the entire movie, thinking about your childhood and how the affectionate fluffy monster has influenced your life in one way or another.
Being Elmo will be released in cinemas from 27 April. For information on screenings please visit the Dogwoof website.