Friday, 27 April 2012

Film Review: 27 April

Written by Kat Brown

Secrets of Sesame Street...



kat brown1-BWAnyone who saw The Muppets movie in February will attest to the happiness that the multicoloured puppets scatter in their wake, and this nippy documentary about Kevin Clash, the 'muppeteer' behind Sesame Street's beloved Elmo acts as a fascinating insight into the backstage world and how far a child's creativity can take him with the right encouragement.

Brought up in Baltimore, Clash fell in love with puppetry by watching Sesame Street. By high school he had painstakingly built up a collection of handmade puppets and was working at children's parties and on a local TV station, all with the indefatigable support of his parents.

His mother wrote a letter to Sesame Street designer Kermit Love, who arranged a meeting with Clash. Love provided tips on how to make more convincing Elmo wasn't the biggest star in the show but the true story of his puppeteer is gripping puppets, but above all acted as mentor, providing contacts that led to Clash getting television and film work on Muppet creator Jim Henson's shows and, eventually, Sesame Street. Clash was given charge of the nigh-abandoned Elmo and turned him into one of the show's most iconic and bestloved characters. There's a lovely scene where he gives an Elmo masterclass to the actress playing his French counterpart.

Original footage and photos are weaved in so well that it's almost as though Clash's life was made for documentation. He certainly seems to have been followed by cameras for much of his life; even his first meeting with Kermit Love is shown here. Footage of Clash's early puppetry, as well as photographs of him with Love and Henson serve to brilliantly illustrate the scrapbook of luck and hard work that make up his creative life.

The one scene in which this fits poorly is when Clash answers his teenage daughter's request to come home and spend time with her before she goes to college. He arrives with a camera crew. Having separated from his wife due to the amount of travelling that Elmo has done, it's an interesting question. What takes precedence: family, or the millions of children and families who take heart from your creation? Just as Jim Henson's creations have been taken over by a new artist following his death, so too could Elmo. Would Clash want that? Unlikely.

As sad as it is that Clash's marriage failed due to his career, scenes with Elmo and children show the power and possibility wielded by this man and his puppet. During one scene, meeting a sick child and her family, you forget that Elmo isn't real, even though Clash's mouth is moving, and you can see the sticks he uses to manoeuvre the skinny red arms into hugs. The child forgets, too. The one knife twist is the expression of absolute grief on the father's face as he thanks Clash for meeting his daughter: Elmo can't fix everything.

Running at a brisk 80 minutes, Being Elmo leaves you wanting to know more about this cuddly world of dreams. This is a moving, deeply inspiring fi lm about the human need for joy – with puppets. You can't ask for more than that.

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