Susan Granger's review of 'Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey'
Published 1:46 pm, Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Who doesn't love Elmo, the familiar, furry, red Muppet from "Sesame Street"? But did you know that Elmo's the only non-human ever to testify before the United States Congress? That and other fascinating nuggets are part of this documentary about Kevin Clash, best known as Elmo's hand, voice and soul.
Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, the journey begins outside Baltimore where, after watching "Captain Kangaroo," young Kevin Clash cut up his father's raincoat to construct a monkey character to animate for family and neighborhood friends. Initially mocked for "playing with dolls," by the time Kevin graduated from high school, he'd created more than 70 puppets and landed his first gig on a local Maryland children's TV show. Supported by his parents, Kevin was obsessed with puppetry, snagging a breakthrough job with "Captain Kangaroo." After that, he worked on PBS' "The Great Space Coaster," bypassing Jim Henson's "The Dark Crystal" to do the 1968 movie "Labyrinth." That gave him a foothold into the "Sesame Street" universe, where Henson became his friend/mentor, teaching him the tricks of the trade.
Curiously, Kevin wasn't Elmo's first puppeteer, but he is the one who contributed the helium-infused, falsetto voice and developed the personality of a perpetual three year-old, speaking in the third person. He was the first African-American to join the Jim Henson organization and currently serves as Muppet Captain and co-executive producer.
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Kind and thoughtful, Kevin epitomizes the observation of "Sesame Street" veteran Martin P. Robinson: "When a puppet is true and good and moving, it's the soul of the puppeteer you're seeing."
Adapting his 2006 autobiography "My Life as a Furry Red Monster: What Being Elmo Has Taught me About Life, Love and Laughing Out Loud," director Constance Marks ignores Kevin's role as a single parent, never completely revealing the man behind the Muppet.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Being Elmo" is an adoring, sweet 7. Shown Saturday, Jan. 28, at 4 p.m. at Christ and Holy Trinity Church in Westport. Tickets are $10 and benefit the Westport Cinema Initiative.