Loved by millions of children around the world, Elmo is an international icon. However, few people know the soft-spoken man behind the furry red monster: Kevin Clash.
Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, BEING ELMO: A PUPPETEER'S JOURNEY follows Clash's remarkable career, while also offering a behind-the-scenes look at Sesame Street and the Jim Henson Workshop. As a teenager growing up in Baltimore in the 1970s, Clash had very different aspirations from his classmates - he wanted to be a part of Henson's team, the creative force responsible for delivering the magic of Sesame Street on a daily basis. With a supportive family behind him, Kevin made his dreams come true.
Featuring interviews with Frank Oz, Rosie O'Donnell, Cheryl Henson, Joan Ganz Cooney and Clash himself, filmmaker Constance Marks's insightful and personal documentary tells the story of one of the world's most adored and recognizable characters and the visionary behind the icon.
This captivating documentary is both a follow-your-dreams story and a gently intriguing backstage glimpse at a side of show business that has occupied a hallowed place in popular culture since 1969. That was the year Sesame Street
premiered on the fledgling Public Broadcasting Service, quickly launching a breed of beloved anthropomorphic plush characters that have held a singular place in the hearts of a couple generations now: the Muppets. The subject is Kevin Clash, a Baltimore native who obsessively carried his early knack for puppetry from his hometown's local airwaves to network television in New York before settling into the comfortable throne he occupies as royalty in the puppeteer kingdom. As the title says, Clash's masterstroke was bringing to life the Muppet hero Elmo, a childlike embodiment of love who became a celebrity to millions of kids and grownups irresistibly drawn to the fuzzy red ball of hug-hungry innocence. Along the way Elmo also became the bane of parents who sometimes had to fight for a facsimile figure during the holidays when Tickle Me Elmo became one of those lightning-strike toy sensations that every child had
to have. We learn a lot about Elmo and the journey that character experienced under the spotlight, but much more about Clash, whose seemingly charmed life unfolded like a grownup fairy tale. Clash's destiny as a performer, producer, director, teacher, mentor, and enchanter seemed to be secured from the moment he took scissors to his father's overcoat at age 10 in order to construct his first puppet. Starting on TV in Baltimore, then on the pioneering kids' show Captain Kangaroo
, and finally as an essential figure in the Sesame Street
universe, Clash breezed through all the right doors as they magically opened before him. His biggest break came when he befriended puppet engineer Kermit Love, and then Love's boss, Muppet master Jim Henson. Clash's single-minded focus was aided significantly by his genuine talent for the construction, physical styling, and voice-finding genius in bringing his creations to life. Through extensive interview segments and archival footage that follows Clash through nearly every step of his journey, the process of finding that voice entails not just figuring out what each puppet should sound like, but more importantly discovering the soul of the fleece-and-foam being that grows from the puppeteer's arm. Finding Elmo was part accident--another cast member on Sesame Street
tossed the nascent puppet to Clash in frustration--and part divine intervention from the gods of puppeteering. Clash's devotion to craft and the unlearnable spark of his creative genius brought the simple joy of Elmo to millions, and the gentle uncovering of those elements is what makes Being Elmo
such an inspiring tale. Its telling may sometimes feel generic and the tone borders on fawning (Elmo and Clash fan Whoopi Goldberg provides narration), but there's no denying the simple, irrepressible joy that's a constant in the movie, whether in the mind of Kevin Clash, in the smile of the home viewer, or in the googly eyes of Elmo himself. --Ted Fry