What mimes and truly creepy clowns are to most people, puppets, puppeteers and child magicians are to me: weird and chilling. In “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey,” documentarian Constance Marks works the sunniness and uplift in her sweet-to-saccharine telling of the life story of Kevin Clash, the puppeteer and voice behind Sesame Street’s hug-happy “Elmo” character. Prizes have been lavished at festivals across the nation. If I were four, I’d be bored and aggravated for different reasons, largely the grown-ups who are as sincere and earnest as a painting of sunshine. The Baltimore-born Clash’s childhood dream of working with Jim Henson came true, and we got this documentary, from “Labyrinth” to “Sesame Street” and squealing kids nationwide. There’s a hint of strife in the now-fifty-one-year-old Clash’s avowed regret at having neglected his daughter while on tour after tour, but the grins-and-giggles are the point of this skeletal documentary, which also makes no large point of Clash being “Sesame Street”‘s first African-American primary puppeteer. Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg. “Being Elmo” took a special Jury Prize on its Sundance 2011 premiere. With Bill Barretta, Fran Bill, Joan Ganz Cooney, Rosie O’Donnell, Frank Oz, Martin P. Robinson, Caroll Spinney. 75m. (Ray Pride)
“Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey” opens Friday at Siskel.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published soon. Previews of the project are on Twitter and on Instagram as Ghost Signs Chicago. More photography on Instagram.