Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey (2011) – Constance Marks, Philip Shane

There are enough interesting tidbits in this backstage documentary about the man who created and is Elmo, the beloved red Muppet of Sesame Street, to last over the movie’s slim 80 minutes and I won’t deny I learned quite about puppeteering. This rags to felt story chronicles a young, charismatic man from Baltimore named Kevin Clash who has been in love with puppets since he was a child and was working on local tv kids shows in high school and went directly on to Sesame Street and Captain Kangaroo. The last half of the Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey deals with the creation of Elmo and the heights of popularity the character has achieved. Less investigated is the dark side of that, the time Clash spends being Elmo means less time with his family, but the movie still acheives some poignancy. The moment I think of is the 16th birthday of Clash’s daughter that includes personal messages from celebrities like Jack Black and LL Cool J. The girl is thrilled but when we see Clash he is crying presumably out of joy, but it must be a bitter sweet moment. Yes, he can provide his child with a special and elaborate birthday party, but what has he given up to make that possible?

This documentary was begging to be made as some footage of a young Clash curiously exists, not just of early appearances on television but of meetings and workshops with his puppeting mentors (Kermit Love and Jim Henson). I was also intrigued to learn that Clash and I share a favorite Sesame Street character; Grover. I would have liked Being Elmo to be the kind of movie to explore the fact that Clash’s Elmo effectively superseded and replaced Grover. But, oh well, there is also something satisfying to see a man who wanted something so badly and then got it all and more, who needs the darker side?

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