Joshua Reviews Constance Marks’ Being Elmo [SXSW 2011 Review]

‘Who’s more famous than Elmo?’

That ones the one question brought up during the introduction of the new documentary, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey.   However, a different question is at the core of what makes this film the charming, coma inducing piece of heartfelt documentary filmmaking that it truly is.

While the film may focus on who is the man behind the furry red fuzzball of insanity that is Elmo, it’s his spark, the fire that he lights in the eyes, hearts and minds of people, age be damned, around the world that is why this is one of the most moving non-fiction films in quite some time.

Following the story of one Kevin Clash, Being Elmo is a look behind the curtain so to say revolving around one of the most iconic pop culture names around ‘“ Elmo. Looking at Clash’s childhood inspiration and ultimately his lifelong love with the art of puppeteering, the film also focuses on his relationships with other members of the craft, particularly with his mentor, Jim Henson.   However, the film is much more than that.   Much more.

Being Elmo features not only some genuinely beautiful shot footage, but director Constance Marks was also able to dig up some really striking and quite rare stock footage, revolving around his introduction to the world of Muppets and particularly his ultimate inclusion into the crew of Sesame Street.   It’s this stock footage that offers the most interesting insight into this particular side of the man himself, Kevin Cash.

One could not ask for a more compelling person to follow either.   A Baltimore native, Cash oozes charm and charisma, and not only seems to be genuinely inspired by people like Henson and Frank Oz (who is featured briefly in interviews here), but has since taken their loving charisma and charismatic love for the art, spreading it to future generations.

However, while the film may seem like light fluff, there is quite a bit going on here for those looking to truly be moved by this man and his red companion.

Elmo as an entity is nothing but pure and unconditional love.   The physical manifestation of a hug, Elmo may be a loving character, but it’s also put a dent in the life of the man behind him.   Unable to spend much time with his family, the most poignant scenes are when you see this man, in love with this art, step back, and realize that the most important part of his job as a human is to not spend time with other toddlers, but take his warmth and give it to those that are closest to him.   This dichotomy between life and work is so powerful and relatable for any artist in any medium, that you can’t help but truly fall for this man and what he stands for.

That said, Elmo is first and foremost a beacon of hope, love, and warmth for children around the world, and the looks on the faces of these children, of which I was one when I was younger, just give themselves over completely, with such a close bond is genuinely powerful.   Tears were shed, hearts were melted, and while it may be a cavity causing piece of non-fiction filmmaking, there is a distinct heart and soul to the picture, that has been long missed at the theater for quite some time.

Overall, the film may be a bit long (this subject could have been even more powerful as a longer short film possibly), but this is one person that I could spend days with, and then ask for more.   Full of heart, charm, and a genuinely moving core, making this one of the most enjoyable and moving films in quite some time.   It is a bit long in the tooth, and yes, it is as sweet as sugar covered skittles dipped in unicorn infused honey, but it’s so much more than that.   Sesame Street fan or not, the only thing you need is a heart, and you’ll fall head over heels for this wonderfully inspiring documentary.

Being Elmo will screen again on:

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