Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Being Elmo

Being Elmo
seen @ IFC Center, New York NY

Okay, first of all, can I just say how absolutely TERRIFYING this poster for Being Elmo is? I mean, look at it. That damn muppet looks like he's been summoned from the lower regions of hell by Kevin Clash for the specific purpose of vivisecting you and offering you up as a sacrifice to the Elder Gods. It looks like a poster for a 70s grindhouse horror movie. Seriously, what were they thinking when they put this together? This is without a doubt the wrong image you wanna present for what is a positive, uplifting, feel-good movie. Am I the only one who thinks so? I doubt it...

Anyway. Sesame Street. I watched it as a kid, like everyone else. Snufflufagus was kinda scary, Cookie Monster was awesome, and Big Bird was sweet. I don't remember too much about watching the show, just a few scattered memories here and there, so I can't say to what extent I learned stuff from it. I'm sure I did. (I have better memories of watching The Electric Company, and I definitely learned from that show, but that's for another post.)

Elmo, of course, became a star long after I had stopped watching Sesame Street, and I remember being annoyed at seeing him everywhere after he blew up. I suppose I thought at the time that he was the show's answer to Barney, from what little I saw of him. Still, I didn't care too much. It wasn't until I started hearing about this documentary and saw that Elmo's muppeteer was a black man that I took any interest.

I never had any great dream to make muppets or puppets like Clash did. If anything, Being Elmo shows that it's one thing to be able to make a cool-looking puppet, but another thing altogether to create a personality for it. We see footage of Clash as a teenager hand-sewing puppets and learning about the materials that go into making them and he certainly has a talent for that, one developed at an early age. To bring these puppets to life, however, takes something extra, and in seeing the teenaged Clash make voices for them and animate them - that, to me, was the truly remarkable part. There's one scene where he explains to another muppeteer the subtle differences in showing expression on a muppet, and you can tell how great an expert he has become at it, how he makes it an art form.

I have to admit, I'm disappointed that Being Elmo is only playing at the IFC. If ever a movie deserves a wider audience, this is one - black audiences in particular need to see it. We get to see Clash's family, his humble beginnings as a poor kid in Baltimore, and how he single-mindedly pursued his dream. That's a story that transcends race, but it's also a story with resonance and relevance for black audiences in particular, and it's unfortunate that no theaters in Harlem or downtown Brooklyn or Jamaica are showing this.

I don't think I've talked about the IFC here. The IFC is a relatively recent addition to the West Village, replacing the old Waverly Theater. (I saw Scream with Jenny at the old Waverly!) It's not as aesthetically pleasing as other art house theaters, but the seats are comfortable, the bathrooms are clean and the selection of films is always top-notch. The last film I saw here was Antichrist (NOT MY IDEA!! Jenny really wanted to see it - and even then, we almost walked out on it). Plus, the IFC sells these really cool T-shirts that have the names of foreign directors in the style of heavy metal logos - for instance, "Ozu" in an Ozzy (as in Osborne) logo, or "Von Trier" in a Van Halen logo. One day I'll have to buy one of those.

The frog prince: The legacy of Jim Henson


  1. Great work, this film actually very much interests me. Love to see you around my blog as well.

  2. Thanks. Like I said, this film deserves a much wider audience. Hopefully it'll come to your town if it's not there yet.

  3. This finally came out around here (I've been hearing about it for months as various friends saw it at festivals) and I'm excited to see it! Only heard good thing about it, and it seems like an interesting story. I'm surprised to hear it's only playing at the IFC in New York, hopefully it'll spread a bit if it does well.

    I like the IFC too, though I wish they had one of those metal shirts for a director I really loved! Most of them are filmmakers I'm not a big enough fan of to warrant a shirt. Last time I was there anyway, which admittedly was like a year ago.

  4. I know what you mean. I'd feel like a poseur if I wore a Jodorosky shirt just because it had a Judas Priest font.


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