Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Being Elmo

I really, really wish I had watched this movie ages ago when it first came out. But I didn't, so oh well. I put it off even further because I was convinced that recent events would color my opinion, but I actually don't think that was what happened.

Let's pretend I managed to write this review a year ago. I would have opened by saying that I really admire Kevin Clash, the puppeteer behind Elmo on Sesame Street. I would have pointed out that while I never really warmed to Elmo, I never really hated him either. He was a well done character, I just prefer Oscar or Grover, because that's what I grew up with. I also would have said that I saw Kevin Clash once, at a book festival, and watched the way he and Elmo interacted with the kids that came for him to sign copies of his then-new book, My Life as a Furry Red Monster. There was something great about it, the way the kids reacted, the way he talked to them.

I probably would have mentioned how I thought that Kevin Clash was a great example of the sheer amount of inspiration there was in Jim Henson, and how great a mentor and creator Henson was. Clash has always talked with great respect about Henson, and that made me respect him, no matter what I thought of Elmo.

Then, of course, Clash recently turned out to be a little less respectable than everybody thought (no matter how the court cases shake out, what truths he's admitted to are still disconcerting). Which makes me sad, and I thought would make me view Being Elmo in an unfair light.

But the thing is, Being Elmo is a good documentary, but I wouldn't say it's a great one. To me a great documentary is one that reveals things you never knew, or where it could be about a person no one has heard of but still be fascinating. A great documentary could take your neighbor and make them fascinating. Being Elmo was handed it's topic on a silver platter, and it did well, of course. Technically, there's nothing to complain about. It's an interesting film and I'm glad I watched it.

Maybe I just know too much about Sesame Street and Elmo. Maybe I know too much about Henson from being a lifelong fan. Maybe it's because I have at least skimmed Clash's book. But the only revelation in the film is the very brief discussion of his relationship with his ex-wife and his daughter, which the film touches on quickly and runs away from like they were afraid of saying something unkind about their subject.

Which is another aspect I didn't think worked with the film, because everything in it was glowing adoration of Clash, it came across like he had produced the film himself. Everything was just so nice that the film became so very even that it stopped being emotional very quickly. You don't get excited when he gets to start working in New York because everything was already so good, you weren't worried that it wouldn't turn out great. Where were the trials? Where were the struggles? Well, apparently still to come, but that's not the point.

I suppose that is the one thing that colored my viewing of the film, because now we know that Clash's life is not, and probably never has been, perfect. So having this very pleasing portrait of him isn't just a little bit boring like it would be if I didn't know, but it feels more like a lie.

So in the end, the film is interesting, especially if you don't know too much about Sesame Street or Henson so that the information would be a little more new and fresh to you. If you want to learn more about Clash, perhaps this will give you a different viewpoint. If you just like biographies and learning about different people's lives, it does a fairly good job of that.

But if you're looking for something in depth, hard hitting, or with a good bit of conflict, this isn't a good place to go.