A moving, engaging puppeteer doc guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
Presumably still reeling from Mel Gibson’s beaver-fisted invasion into its hallowed territory, the puppetry world gets a richly deserved shot of positive cinematic representation in Being Elmo, a light, sweet documentary profile of the man behind the Muppets’ loveable red creature.
Growing up in a small town on the outskirts of Baltimore, a young Kevin Clash discovered that his interests were unlike those of many of his contemporaries. His passion for creating characters from fabric extended to surreptitiously cutting up his dad’s jackets for material (a memory amusingly recalled by Clash’s bemused but supportive parents), and before long he was performing puppet shows for the local community. A fateful high school trip to New York City was the catalyst for his ascension and career success, and, eventually, the creation of his most famous character.
Being Elmo uses a fairly straightforward mixture of interviews and archive material to share Clash’s story chronologically, and some of the footage – including early videotaped shows and later auditions for his hero, Jim Henson – is extraordinary. Throughout, Clash remains a warm, engaging, slightly eccentric presence, and elucidates thoughtfully and honestly his unusual story.
Despite the positivity on show, there’s an underlying sense of melancholy inherent in the film which emanates from the sense that Clash is only ever fully happy and comfortable in the (oft-furry) skin of his creations. Furthermore, an area which is disappointingly skimmed over is the negative impact that his taxing work schedule has exacted upon his rather sketchily covered family life.
However, the overall effect of Being Elmo is so cheering that one can excuse the reticence on director Constance Marks’ behalf to dig too deep into the darker recesses of her subject. Ultimately, her film is a testament to passionate creativity and hard work, and no doubt deserves to join the pantheon of great underdog movies.
Be honest. Was finding out who operated a vaguely annoying puppet high on your list of burning questions?
Moving, engaging and guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
Slight, but an uplifting, universal rallying call for creative people to follow their dreams.