Who knew Kevin Clash is the genius behind one of “Sesame Street’s” favorite puppets? The engaging documentary, “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey,” offers the lowdown on this talented puppeteer and the magic world of the Muppets. It plays Saturday, Oct. 29, at Vineyard Haven’s Katharine Cornell Theatre as part of the Martha’s Vineyard Film Society’s winter film series.
Mr. Clash was a mere 10-year-old kid when he began making puppets from clothing hanging in his parents’ closet. His favorite TV show was “Captain Kangaroo,” and at 18 he and his puppets became a regular feature in the popular kid’s series on CBS.
“Being Elmo” tracks the trajectory that took Mr. Clash from “Chocolate City” outside Baltimore to New York and a career as a world-class puppeteer. The late Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets franchise, was the aspiring young puppeteer’s hero from childhood.
Starting as a teenager on a Baltimore kid’s show, Mr. Clash visited Muppets designer Kermit Love’s workshop during a high school field trip to New York City. The grandfatherly puppet master mentored the shy but talented youngster and nudged his career into the big time.
Soon Mr. Clash was working with Mr. Henson on movies like “Labyrinth” and then joining the regular crew at “Sesame Street.” After another puppeteer gave up on Elmo, Mr. Clash took on the lovable puppet and developed its personality around the “hook” of love, with lots of kisses and hugs.
“Kids love Elmo because he needs them,” the puppeteer says in the film. He has gone on to become a producer, director and Senior Creative Consultant for “Sesame Street.”
Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, “Being Elmo” piques the viewer’s interest by delving into the fascinating world of puppet-making. One of Mr. Clash’s earliest challenges was how to hide the seams on the fabric he worked with to make his first puppets.
Now a master puppeteer himself, Mr. Clash travels all over the world with Elmo in addition to teaching other puppeteers how to improve their craft. “Being Elmo” won a Special Jury Prize at Sundance earlier this year, and it’s easy to understand why.
The West Tisbury Library will screen silent film classics on Monday nights during November. Playing November 7 is the great F.W. Murnau’s “Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans”; “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” starring Maria Falconetti, is scheduled for November 14. Charlie Chaplin’s legendary “City Lights” will play on November 21; and “The Blue Angel,” with the legendary Marlene Dietrich and Emil Jannings, is featured on November 28. All the films, which are free, begin at 7 pm, and popcorn is included.
“Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey,” Saturday, October 29, 7:30 pm, Katharine Cornell Theatre, Vineyard Haven. $8; $5 for MVFS members. Doors open at 7 pm. For more information, visit mvfilmsociety.com.