Friday, March 23, 2012

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey Review

Kevin Clash is a willful dreamer. He is the person behind the beloved red Muppet, Elmo. When an artist inspires someone, it is as if they are given a torch they must pass on. Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets, passed the torch to an entire generation of artists and Kevin Clash is one of his offspring.

I myself have been given a torch from so many artists, but this review isn’t about me. Being Elmo is a wonderful account of the product of true artistry. What do I mean by this? Being Elmo is a brief biography of Kevin Clash's life as he journeyed upon the hero's journey. Kevin was inspired by Jim Henson to achieve a goal. He wished he could someday devote his life to puppetry. Kevin turned wishing dreaming into willful action by making puppets and performing wherever he could. The forces of antagonism fought against him. Kevin was ridiculed by his peers, but he persevered, and was rewarded for those who fight for a just cause attract allies. Kevin sought and found a mentor who gave him the resources he needed to continue his journey. Eventually Kevin accomplished his career ambition, and now is working towards his life ambition—passing on the torch of inspiration to others.

Kevin is a wonderful man brought up by loving, supportive parents. However, my only complaint about this documentary is little is mentioned regarding Kevin's issues. They mentioned Kevin's ex-wife and his struggle to spend time with his daughter, but mostly everything was made to look like lollypops and unicorns. Call me cynical, but no one who  makes it to the top is not without dirt under their nails. But there is still a hopeless romantic inside me so I don't care much to know about Kevin's problems.

Kevin discovered his calling at a very early age, and worked hard to accomplish his goals. He’s lived my dream of becoming an artist, and of course the fame is enticing. Actually, Kevin has lived many people’s dream and it’s wonderful. The world we live in has so much room for art. The world needs artists and we need them. We? Yes, me too. I am an aspiring artist. What do I have to offer? I’m working on it. (This is the part where this post becomes more about me.)

What separates Kevin Clash from most artists is he went out on his own. He didn’t wait for opportunities to present themselves, he made them. School is the safe route. School promises a future career. But school exists in a realm outside of the "real world". I have gone to school my entire life, and if I am to achieve my dream of becoming an artist, then I cannot keep going to school. In school I do exercises upon exercises hoping that someday I will be good enough for someone to hire me. Kevin Clash didn't go to college and look at him. Employers came to him and asked him to work for them!

What is my career goal? Kevin wanted to be a puppeteer. I want to be a screenwriter. Actually, see the problem is I cannot decide. All of these jobs exists under the umbrella of storytelling and I just want to create stories and tell them. The story artist position actually sounds pretty amazing, but I don't just want to develop my stories, I want to help bring them alive on the big screen.

I can’t go to school for another four years. I might die tonight for all I know, and never accomplish my dream What is my dream? My goal. I want to inspire people like Kevin has inspired me, or like Jim Henson or Charlie Chaplin or Lucianno Pavarottie or Walt Disney or Hayao Miyazaki or Jules Feiffer, Norton Juster, Joe Ranft, Pete Docter, Tim Burton, John Lasseter,  ore Andrew Stanton. These men DID! They dreamed enormously and committed their lives to making their dreams reality. I feel like my bubble has been popped. I feel like my path has been put into clear-cut perspective. The only way to achieve your dreams is to make them reality. It’s such a fantastic notion and the forces or antagonism raise all hell to stand in your way. But you have to beat these machines into submission." is the words of Jan Pinkava.

What a wonderful documentary—so inspiring! I’m so gullible. If you put someone on a movie screen I’ll believe anything. Such is my personality. Movies are more real to me than reality. I’m sick of school exercises. I'm sick of wishing I was good enough. I’ll never be "good enough" by my standards to do anything so I just gotta follow Walt Disney's advice and "dive into the water and learn to swim on the way down. But do I have the energy? Do I have the drive? I don’t know. Do I have the passion? If there’s one thing that is takes it’s persistence. Absolute dedication. Licking your wounds when beaten down and trying again and again and again. Being Elmo is a film that makes you look at your life and ask, "What do I want? What am I getting out of life? What am I fighting for? Why am I alive? Who inspires me?" This documentary is a call to action:

-Put aside wishful dreaming. Will your dreams into reality.


  1. Sam,

    I watched this recently too and felt all sorts of wonderful warm and fuzzy drive as you do.

    As someone who can't decide (or rather, is afraid to decide) one of the two career paths in this industry, all I can say to you is to just pick one.

    I've been battling with myself to find what is left of my passions and have narrowed it down to art direction and acting. Acting is the one I've chosen to focus on now and enrolled myself into an amazing acting class that has made me happier than I have been in a very long time.

    I hope you will find such clarity soon, because when you're focused on just one attainable path, the drive is beyond any great fantasy we could hope for.

    1. Hey Ashley!

      Thank you for the words of wisdom. I'm glad you enjoyed "Being Elmo" as much as I did. You and I both know how hard it is to pick a single career path, but I think you are correct to say you must pick one in order to focus your energy. Good for you for enrolling in an acting class! As long as you are doing what you love, you are working toward where you want to be.