Thursday, March 22, 2012

Movie Review: Being Elmo

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey
Directed by Constance Marks
Running Time: 80 minutes
Originally Released: January 23, 2011 (Sundance Film Festival)

* * * (out of four)

It isn’t easy being red.

Or maybe it is. You wouldn’t know for certain after watching Being Elmo, the documentary that chronicles Kevin Clash’s rise from avid nine-year-old fan of Sesame Street to puppeteer of the most famous redhead at the Children’s Television Workshop.

While the film is called Being Elmo, a more appropriate title would be Becoming Elmo. The bulk of the movie tells the story of how Clash became interested in puppetry at a young age, began designing his own puppets soon thereafter, and through a series of somewhat serendipitous events, came to work with Jim Henson. At the age of 24, Clash joined the cast of Sesame Street and gave a new voice and personality to a puppet that, for approximately a decade, had made several appearances on the show and yet failed to resonate with audiences and Clash’s fellow puppeteers alike. In Clash’s hands, that puppet became Elmo, who after nearly 30 years is arguably the Oprah Winfrey of the puppeting world.

Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, Being Elmo conveys surprisingly little of Clash’s personality and of how his life, personally and/or professionally, has changed since Elmo became Sesame Street’s resident superstar. The film gestures at the fact that the high demand for personal appearances by Elmo, and thus by Clash, has taken something of a toll on Clash’s family. But this is not a film that wishes to wallow in the doldrums, and whatever challenges Clash’s career may bring are quickly swept under the rug, if mentioned at all. This is both a blessing and a curse. On the whole, the movie remains uplifting, charming, and even touching. And yet one can’t help but wonder at many aspects of Clash’s life that the film completely ignores. How does Clash’s immediate family feel about Elmo? Is Elmo a part of the family, or a source of jealousy and resentment? What is a typical workday like for Clash? How does Clash prepare for a typical episode of Sesame Street, especially now that he’s co-executive producer? What is his creative role on the show? These are all obvious questions to ask, and Being Elmo remains completely ignorant of them. Consequently, this is a documentary more tickling than it is tantalizing. How appropriate.

1 comment:

  1. Almost sounds like it is aimed at a younger audience? Maybe that's why they skipped over anything heavy? Or is it meant for grown ups?
    Surprisingly, we haven't watched much Sesame Street yet (we have only Netflix now) but Rayne still knows Elmo, thanks to books, toys etc. I think it's kinda silly (in an annoying way) that this can be the case. What reason does she have to bond with Elmo if she's never seen the show?