Film & TV

"Being Elmo": A Puppeteer's Journey

This documentary on Kevin Clash — the kind, gentle man who created the Muppet beloved by every single child in the world — rushes through intriguing points its interviewees bring up to devote more time to banalities. Instead of hearing more from the colleague who exhorted Clash, "Jim [Henson] doesn't have any black puppeteers, so you need to tell him what you do," we must endure Whoopi Goldberg's snoozy voice-over: "Kevin loved watching television." Clash, born in 1960 outside Baltimore to two devoted parents, had built 85 puppets by the time he reached his teens, entertaining the kids at his mom's daycare center and soon working on local TV shows. At 18, he attracted the attention of Muppet designer Kermit Love. After the meeting with Love, the film settles on a bullet-point trajectory of Clash's career, leaving out any mention of his personal life other than one offhand remark about "my ex-wife, Gina" and a too-long scene at his daughter's 16th birthday party. Of his furry, red creation, we learn that Elmo's concept was simple: "I knew that Elmo should represent love — just kissing and hugging."

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Melissa Anderson is the senior film critic at the Village Voice, for which she first began writing in 2000. Her work also appears in the publications of the Voice’s film partner, Voice Media Group: LA Weekly, Denver Westword, Phoenix New Times, Miami New Times, Broward-Palm Beach New Times, Houston Press and Dallas Observer.