Being Elmo is the story of Kevin Clash – the man behind everyone’s favourite Sesame Street character, Elmo. Starting from his childhood in Baltimore and his early days as a child growing up watching Sesame Street and being hooked on puppeteering, Clash tells the tale of how he came to work with Jim Henson and create the most popular character of all time.
As a regular child growing up watching TV shows such as Captain Kangaroo, Clash was no different to his peers until one day, in 1969, a new show called Sesame Street premiered. Seeing a neighbourhood like his own on the screen which also incorporated the wonderful world of puppets captured his imagination and shaped the rest of his life in an instant.
Cutting up his father’s coat in order to create his first puppet from the sheepskin lining, it was clear to his parents that this was his thing and they supported his new hobby despite derision from fellow classmates. Running local puppet shows for children in his neighbourhood, Clash was spotted by a local TV station and asked to audition. On the back of this success he was spotted by Kermit Love which would provide the springboard into the big time and the bright lights ofNew York.
Taking Kevin under his wing, Kermit helped him to land roles in two network TV shows and a meeting with Jim Henson. Initially with his TV shows being so successful, Clash had to turn down the chance to work on Henson’s upcoming debut feature The Dark Crystal despite Henson being his idol because taking the film role would have meant losing both TV shows. As it turned out this nearly proved disastrous as both TV shows stalled, however Henson offered Clash a role in his next feature, Labyrinth, and subsequentlySesame Street.
Initially things were not always plain sailing as Clash was controlling bland and unknown characters with no longevity (apart from Clifford the jazz man) until one day he took the already part-established character of Elmo and revamped him as the red monster we all currently know and love. Seeing the archive footage of early Elmo is a treat as unbeknownst to many he used to have a deep voice and different personality and was about to be dropped until Clash reinvented him. The rest, as they say, is history as Elmo’s popularity spiraled into the behemoth it is today.
While the successes of Clash’s story are the main focus of Being Elmo, there are smaller asides about the pressures of touring with Elmo once fame took hold and effect it had on the breakdown of his marriage and relationship with his daughter. If any criticism could be leveled at the film it would be that these areas are not explored in enough detail leaving you wanting to know much more.
With such a narrow subject area you would be forgiven for wondering how a documentary about one guy behind one famous character could be stretched into a feature length film and indeed this is partly overcome by the 70 minute run time which races by. Were it not for the slightly shallow nature of some areas it would receive the full five star treatment, and indeed as a Special Jury Prize winner at Sundance 2011 it is a highly recommended documentary, but you are likely to be left wanting just a bit more.