Constance Marks / 2011 / USA / 80 mins
Click here to read our interview with Martin Baker, producer on many Muppets productions with Jim Henson.
The undiscovered and mystical world of television puppetry is something fairly elusive to kids growing up. The men and women who animate the fur creatures seem to duck and cover beneath the camera line, playing an invisible role in something so integral to children’s entertainment. Constance Marks’ documentary tells the story of Kevin Clash, a young puppeteer from Baltimore who, most famously, brought Elmo to life.
Delving into the secret world of Muppet creation, Being Elmo rattles through Clash’s life as a young, talented puppet-maker and how his obsession with the Muppets eventually led him to the studio while on a school trip to New York. After his gift was instantly recognised by designer Kermit Love, Clash started out on various projects with Sesame Street, before working alongside Jim Henson himself in Labyrinth. Though Clash remained anonymous in public, veiled behind the fame and glory of Elmo, his significance behind the camera as a director, producer and teacher soon secured his place in the core team operating the Muppets industry.
This came at a price however. As Elmo’s popularity grew, so too did the need for Clash to travel around the world, attending media events, public screenings and festivals. Spending so much time away from home meant that Clash missed out on some of his daughter’s early years, and felt that while he brought smiles to the faces of children across the globe, he should have spent that time with his family. This is something the film needs to explore further, not to sentimentalise the tortuous life of a puppeteer, but to discover how success can demand so much from an individual. There’s a tragedy in which Clash sacrifices his personal life for his job, admittedly his dream job, and it’s something which Marks could draw out further in this sweet and tender account of life as an unsigned yet international entertainer.
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