Geek Doc: Being Elmo (2011)

After watching a trio of documentaries about somewhat obsessive people who seemed unable to take that obsession and adapt it to something useful, it was great watching Being Elmo. I would have liked this movie about the man who not only created the character of Elmo on Sesame Street, but still performs as the Muppet and seems to be fairly high up in the creative side of the Sesame Street empire. But, the entire time I was watching this flick, I could not stop thinking about the guys in the Rock-afire Explosion doc. Kevin Clash was a kid when he fell in love with puppets and decided to make his own, while the Rock-afire fans just wanted to later purchase an aspect of their childhood. There’s something in some folks that pushes them to not just love something and want to possess it, but to use that love to fuel them into their own creative endeavors. There’s definitely more of the former than the latter, so it’s cool to see the more productive people make good.

Okay, enough of comparing this to other documentaries. Like I said, it’s about Clash and his storybook-like rise from a town bordering factory-polluted waters to literally looking for his hero Jim Henson by his 20s. What facilitated all this? Well, aside from Clash’s fire to make his own puppets and put on his own shows, his mom made a call to one of Henson’s main Muppet makers and set up a meeting. Can you imagine that happening now? I know we have all kinds of social media now that puts us in some sort of contact with potential heroes, but the idea of making a phone call to someone, it going through AND it going well kind of blew my mind. It’s amazing.

Clash’s story is interesting enough, but I also got a kick out of seeing how the Muppet performers really work. Those people are CLOSE to each other when they do performances. I’m not nearly as well-steeped in Jim Henson’s work as I’d like to be, so this was a pretty fantastic entry point for me as it touches on The Muppets, Dark Crystal and Labyrinth through one puppeteer’s memories and plenty of behind-the-scenes footage.

But, at the end of the day, it’s just a really fantastic look at a man who might have been one of those obsessive guys collecting things in another documentary instead of making his own things and using that creativity to fuel his life. Sure, he has his share of problems. Lots of people say he’s very shy and most like himself when he’s playing Elmo, but the amount of joy he brings to kids is unfathomable. He also has been a bit of an absentee father for part of his daughter’s life, which is something that clearly weighs heavily on him. And yet, this is the man who created Elmo, a character who’s whole reason for being is love people and things. That’s just wonderful. So is this flick.

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