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Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey

Elmo / Tickled Red - ★★★½

Tickled Red - ★★★½

An intriguing look into the world of Kevin Clash, the man behind Elmo; his insecurities, drive and determination to spread Elmo’s message of love.

The film follows the normal route for documentaries with talking heads, moving photographs and stock footage. It’s pretty much linear going from his humble beginnings in Baltimore to his eventual rise through the puppeteer ranks. We discover his addiction to TV shows like Captain Kangaroo and the fateful moment when a brand new show called Sesame Street started broadcasting on public broadcast television. He talks about that moment when Bert and Ernie first turned to the camera and welcomed him, the viewer, to their show.

He soon began to realise that it was Jim Henson who was behind this magic and the film is also very much about the creator. Kevin would watch every special possible about how Henson created his puppets and it was when he saw his chief designer Kermit on The Dick Cavett Show he knew he had to meet him. Thanks to his mum who tracked him down, Kevin was invited to the puppet workshop the next time he was in New York. This is when stuff really started to take off and through a series of shows on local tv and a spell on his beloved Captain Kangaroo Kevin then got the call he had waited on for so long. Henson wanted him to work on his new picture Labyrinth.

This catapulted Clash into the Henson universe and landed him a spot on Sesame Street where he was to find and become Elmo. Elmo had a previous outing on the street as an almost caveman-like character and this footage is great, but so hard to believe. The Elmo puppet was then given to Kevin to see if he could do anything with it and he realised that Elmo was about love pure and simple. No one could have possibly foreseen the meteoric rise that Elmo would have, but it’s his eternal childhood innocence and curiosity that have endeared him to many.

The best moments of the film are with Clash as Elmo, here he is free and easy and totally relaxed , he comes across as awkward and reluctant to talk, almost hostile, when on his own or without Elmo. So some of the interviews come across quite flat and plodding. The film also skirts around the facts that his marriage broke up and he barely saw his daughter for large periods of time, probably because of his first love, Elmo. The film is really about Kevin and Elmo as a love mascot so this is excusable, but it would have been interesting to examine the negative effects of this little red monster.

Kevin is one of the nicest guys around which was visible from an early age as he would go to local hospitals and perform for sick children and often has “make a wish” children come to the show to see him perform as Elmo. So it really is Kevin’s heart and soul that makes Elmo come alive making the world a better place. Awh shucks.

USA  /  Directed By: Constance Marks  /  80min  /   Documentary   /  Release: 21 October 2011 (US/Canada), 27 April 2012 (Irl/UK)

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Páraic wanted to be a gangster as far back as he can remember. Brought up on a diet of films he was too young to be watching by his brothers, all things 80s teens thanks to his sisters and the classics by his folks he's turned into a well-rounded (maybe a little too round) film lover. Only recently discovering North by Northwest, he longs for a train journey with a beautiful blond.

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