Just got back from seeing the documentary Being Elmo, which I had been wanting to see since I saw Kevin Clash interviewed by Jon Stewart. It wasn’t a disappointment — anyone who’s interested in the creative spirit definitely should see this film. I’m always fascinated by people who knew what they wanted to do from a very young age, when it’s not one of the more typical kid ambitions like astronaut or firefighter or cowboy. Like my friend Erin, who knew she wanted to be a dictionary editor from the moment she learned there was such a job. And Kevin Clash, who saw the Muppets when he was 10 and knew he wanted to be a puppeteer, and immediately started doing it. His parents were amazing, so accepting of his ambitions from the moment he hacked the furry lining out of his dad’s trench coat to make a monkey.
It’s about the joy of doing the thing you love the most, which you can see in just about every shot of the Sesame Street team doing their work. And the generosity of those who mentor others and open new worlds to them. There are scenes of Kevin meeting the man who built Big Bird and other big puppets and getting the grand tour and answers to all his questions about how the Muppets were constructed (I love the old film clips of people explaining this great new material they’re working with: FLEECE. Cue heavenly choir.) And near the end of the documentary we see Kevin showing a young girl all the exciting stuff in his own workshop and quizzing her on what she knows about the puppeteers on Sesame Street (a lot).
And we learn how Kevin took over the character of Elmo from another puppeteer (who didn’t like working with the character, who was quite different) and how Kevin re-envisioned Elmo and made him the embodiment of love. You see it so strongly when Kevin and Elmo are interacting with ill and dying kids whose Make A Wish dream is to meet Elmo. One of the people who talk about Kevin in the documentary says when a puppet is true and real, what you’re seeing is the soul of the puppeteer.
Lots of great old clips. I especially loved the ones of teenaged Kevin at the sewing machine , finishing a seam and biting off the thread. And his teenaged efforts are well constructed, Muppet-like, with tons of personality.
This is a lovely film about a beautiful soul and the many people who influence a creative life. (And it got me thinking of the fact that I knew I wanted to write from the time I was 10, and I had mentors who encouraged me and gave me opportunities, and parents who were proud and loving.) It’s a movie that makes you want to come home and create something.
I had a big dorky smile on my face for much of it. Seriously. Go.