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Being Elmo

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Being Elmo

Directed by Constance Marks

Opens at the Charles Theatre Nov. 18

Elmo is friggin’ adorable. He’s floppy, furry, chirpy, smiley, and always looking for a hug. It’s no wonder, then, that he’s become a worldwide sensation, as popular as a movie star, holding rank as a kind of baby brother to kid superstars like Mickey Mouse and Kermit the Frog.

Elmo is so full of personality that it’s easy to forget he’s actually a puppet with a guy’s arm stuck in his back, and that guy is Kevin Clash, the subject of director Constance Marks’ new film Being Elmo. Through a combination of new footage and an astonishingly thorough collection of old clips, Marks documents Clash’s upbringing in the small Baltimore County town of Turner’s Station, hungrily watching Captain Kangaroo and Sesame Street and making his own puppets, through his high school start at WMAR-TV and his quasi apprenticeship with Jim Henson wingman Kermit Love and his creation of and subsequent rise to international fame with the Elmo we all know and love.

There’s some less cheery stuff here too, which gives substance and dimension to both the film and the man. Clash fits into that mold of artist who can only understand the world through the lens of his art and so seems to never really participate in it. When Clash’s (now ex-)wife goes into labor with their first and only child, a daughter, Clash is not helping his wife down the stairs and into the car, but rather is being Elmo for a camera, telling his infant daughter how he can’t wait to meet her. When she turns 16, a video recording of Elmo wishes her happy birthday, while Clash stands off to the side, watching, tears in his eyes.

And while this stuff rounds out the doc, what makes it is seeing Clash and his fellow puppeteers at work, watching all the bright colors and silly gags and touring the magic of the workshop. “Elmo should represent love,” Clash says as he describes the moment when he realized what Elmo’s personality should be. And this film, a delight to kids and any adult with a heart, is chock full of it.

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