As part of the festivities with hosting the ‘Jim Henson’s Fantastic World’ exhibition, the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City hosted a special pre-release screening of the documentary film, Being Elmo.
The documentary chronicles the life story of muppeteer and eventual ‘Sesame Street’ juggernaut Kevin Clash and how he managed to overcome odds to achieve his lifelong dream with his natural talent and determination and the love and support of his family. Along the way, those assets would help him meet and become proteges of people such as long-time Jim Henson collaborator Kermit Love and ultimately Henson himself. It’s a laugh-out-loud, emotional journey through both Clash’s life as well as Elmo’s (who started out very differently at the hand of Richard Hunt) and how the two bonded together to become a tour-de-force in children’s edutainment. Of particular note is Clash’s childhood dream of visiting Walt Disney World, recalling watching ‘The Wonderful World of Disney’ and plastering wishes of visiting all over the house to no avail as his family could not afford the trip. It wasn’t until shortly before the untimely passing of Henson that Clash made it to Walt Disney World, doing so as part of working on the television special ‘The Muppets at Walt Disney World,’ as documented in the film, in which Clash recalls a particular moment with Henson that he would soon never have the chance to occur again.
After the screening, Clash and the filmmakers took the stage in an informal Q&A session with the audience. The panel began with director Constance Marks who deferred to her cinematographer (and husband) James Miller to explain how the project came about: Miller was a cameraman on ‘Sesame Street’ and following the birth of his daughter, he had asked Elmo (via Clash) to record a video in which Elmo perused through the baby photos. Marks, intrigued by Clash’s gesture, was determined to meet Clash and the ensuing four-hour lunch inspired Marks to explore more of Clash’s life experience.
Also joining the panel was now sixth-grader Tau, featured in the film as Clash’s own protege, a burgeoning puppeteer in his own right, who not only designs and creates his own puppets, but is well versed in the field on other levels.
Along a few other questions, Clash was asked by the audience what he felt Jim Henson would think about the increasing use of computer generated imagery (CGI) in puppeteering to which Clash said Henson would likely appreciate the use of technology to enhance puppets, but not to replace the essence of it. He was also quick to note that traditional puppetry has the physical element that allows children to interact with them in a way that computer images could never afford. Clash was also asked about his experience being bullied in high school, as alluded to in the film by his sisters, but Clash failed to seem fazed by the experience, admitting he was different and that he just didn’t care what the other kids think, a sentiment shared by protege Tau. In one of the lighter moments of the evening, a child in the audience — one of many — asked Clash if he dreams of Elmo, which unfortunately was far more interesting and fanciful than the resulting answer (he doesn’t).
But then, with the ears he doesn’t have burning, Elmo himself joined the panel to field a few questions (and dish out a number of hugs) including vacancies on Sesame Street, his love for wasabi and his reflections on working with Richard Hunt, in which even Clash himself had much trouble with maintaining a straight face. For your benefit, we provide video of the full appearance by Elmo at the panel here:
After the screening, Clash and Elmo graciously met with screening attendees for photos and autographs, with the noted assistance of Miller, who expanded on his role of cinematographer by eagerly offering to take the pictures so nobody had to be absent in their photo.
Being Elmo, which has been reaping awards and accolades at film festivals all over, including Sundance, will be opening October 21 at the Grand Cinema in Tacoma, Washington and the IFC Center in New York City, where Clash will be appearing at some screenings during the film’s opening weekend. For future opening dates and locations, see the release schedule on the official site.
‘Jim Henson’s Fantastic World’ runs at the Museum of the Moving Image through January 16, 2012 with access to the exhibition and most weekend screenings (often with related talent in attendance) included at no additional cost with museum admission. Special events, such as the Being Elmo screening, are available on a ticketed basis and include upcoming appearances by Frank Oz on October 23 and Brian Henson, appearing both December 3 for a 25th anniversary screening of Labyrinth and December 4 for a presentation on the Evolution of Puppetry.