Last week I watched Being Elmo on Netflix, thanks to the “recommended for you” feature that helps me pry my fingers away from this keyboard during many weekday nights (no spoilers, don’t worry).
I don’t know about you, but a documentary on the puppeteer behind our little red friend didn’t immediately scream out ENTERTAINMENT to me.
Interesting, maybe. Thought-provoking, sure. But I have an allegiance to Sesame Street. Anything Jim Henson touched is certainly worth a considered look, right? I was in a for a surprise.
Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, the film dives wholeheartedly into the life of Kevin Clash, world-renown puppeteer. It’s stunning to me, that as a person who consumes many movies, TV shows and theater performances as the graduate student income allows, I have never really thought about what it takes to be a puppeteer.
On one hand, I suppose that is a testament to their talent, that I would never think about what it takes to stick your hand inside a fleece-lined object and experiment with different voices and movements until the right combination created a character. On the other hand, my ignorance of the myriad things a puppeteer must consider, be mindful of, care about, and be sensitive to, in order to make what would be to you and me a lifeless toy truly come to life, was kind of pathetic. Being Elmo corrected that in a little over an hour.
Beyond the mechanics, this film focuses on what made Clash tick — how this Baltimore-born shy kid had the nerve to up and decide that one day, he had to figure out how the puppets he saw on TV were made. That curiosity led him down a dedicated path. And thank goodness.
Watching Clash speak on camera, I was struck by how much I loved Elmo as a kid, and I was struck by relearning, from an adult’s perspective, why he’s still so important. He’s all about love, that one. Elmo wants to hug you, kiss you, make you laugh. That’s it. People want to be needed, and Elmo needs you — this film reminds you of that.
It can sound sentimental, but whatever, human beings are sentimental. Maybe we should be more sentimental.
Elmo taps into something deep and special in people. You can see it in kids’ faces and you can read it adult’s teary eyes. Look, you’re gonna cry when you watch this movie. YOU WILL CRY. But it’s a good cry because Elmo brings out the real. And it’s all because of introvert-turned-puppet-master, Kevin Clash. I really got that after watching this film. Hope you check it out.