Cinepub


Documental: Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey by Jamie

I never used to get on with Elmo. Like many people who watched old school Sesame Street I felt that he overshadowed some of the shows core classic characters and was generally pissed off with the little red monsters dominance over all aspects of the Street’s merchandising and marketing but I will admit that my impression of the character has softened recently mainly because of videos like this one:

What further helps to soften my image of my once most hated Muppet is the documentary I just watched, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey, a film that covers the life and career of Kevin Clash, the man who would come to voice and perform the titular character. I shall not try to be spoilery in my review although it’s generally difficult to spoil a documentary unless it’s something like ‘Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father’. Anyway, on with the review.

Kevin Clash grew up in a relatively poor area in Baltimore and from a young age he found himself obsessed with puppets and puppetry. He used to sit glued to the television watching Captain Kangaroo and when, at age 9, Sesame Street came on the air that his obsession really took off and by age 10 he had built his first puppet out of his father’s best coat.

Kevin’s obsession grew and grew and he soon had a catalogue of eighty-five puppets and was performing shows in the local area, first for his mother’s day-care class and eventually schools. This led to him being teased by his fellow high school classmates but rather than be discouraged, he stuck at it, doing the thing that he loved no matter what anyone else said. He caught the eye of a local TV producer and soon got his first big break in the world of local television and the name calling soon turned to admiration and he was voted most likely to become a millionaire in his high school year book.

Kevin perfected his puppetry by mimicking the actions he saw on Sesame Street, learning to make a puppet move as though it were a real, living human being and he learnt to make the puppets themselves by watching as many specials by Jim Henson on the subject as he could. He finally got to meet one of his heroes, Kermit Love (Muppet building Master), on a school trip to New York and he helped the young man perfect his craft. It wasn’t long until Clash was attracting the attention of Henson himself and the rest is red felt covered history.

The film obviously goes into a lot more detail with regards to Clash’s life and career but I’ll leave the rest of that for you to discover for yourself. What I will say is that it a surprisingly inspirational and moving story for being about a man who performs a child-voiced Muppet. There were a number of occasions when I did feel tears welling up in my eyes, notably when discussing his work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the discussion of Jim Henson’s death (including clips from Henson’s memorial which always makes me a bit weepy). It also makes you feel like a little kid again, especially when you see the kids meeting Elmo and largely just ignoring the fact that there is clearly a man standing behind, operating him. They just fixate on the puppet as if nothing else in the world matters and their faces light up and you get to share in that sense of wonder too.

It is seriously the perfect film to watch at the beginning of a New Year, an inspirational tale of a man who had a dream, stuck to it, achieved it and even managed to go on to continue the spirit of his hero. If I have any criticisms it’s that the film’s a little short at around one hour and fifteen minutes and there’s no mention of the TV show Dinosaurs which I loved… Although Clash did play the series most annoying aspect, Baby Sinclair. Despite these factors, I’m going to give this film five pints out of five just as it’s given me a new appreciation for Elmo and what he’s really all about.



Review: Catfish by Jamie

I thought long and hard about whether or not to make this review spoiler free or not and, in the end, I came to the conclusion that not mentioning spoilers would make this film particularly difficult to write about so yes, there will be spoilers in this review. Due to the nature of this film I would heartily suggest that you go and watch the film before reading further. To make sure that you don’t accidentally read anything that will spoil the film for you, I’ll place a video underneath this paragraph.

Hahaha, that never gets old. Yes, there’s nothing quite as funny as a chimp sexually violating a frog. It’s true what they say, they’re so like us. Anyway, on with Catfish then. I assume that we’re all finally on the same page here, all having watched the film. If you decided to read on anyway without watching the film then I guess that’s up to you. I can’t stop you.

The film begins in New York when professional photographer Nev Schulman receives a painting of one of his pictures from Abby Pierce, an eight year old from Michigan. Nev begins an online friendship with Abby and, by exension, Abby’s family including Abby’s mother, Angela, Abby’s brother Joel and Abby’s older half-sister Megan who Nev takes quite a shine to as they chat online and via phone calls.

Nev’s brother Ariel and his friend Henry Joost begin documenting Nev’s relationship with the family, in particular his developing romance with Megan. It turns out that Abby isn’t the only artiste in the family and that Megan herself is quite the proficient dancer and prolific songwriter. She sends him copies of songs she has recorded and he is quite impressed. Impressed, that is, until he finds that the songs have pretty much been taking from YouTube videos. This leads to the guys investigating some of the other claims the family have made.

For example, Megan had claimed that they had purchased a gallery in order to hold shows for Abby’s work and had sent them pictures of the building. Through some online sleuthing they discover that the building is actually an old JC Penney’s which is actually still up for sale. Determined to find out the truth behind the story of the family, the filmmakers decide to head out to Michigan to confront the family.

The first place they head to is a horse ranch which Megan supposedly owns in the middle of the night, which actually turns out to be quite a creepy scene. Upon arriving they find that find that no one is there and there is certainly no sign of any horses. Furthermore an investigation of the mailbox reveals that it’s full of postcards which Nev had sent Megan on his travels proving once and for all that the British door-based letter slot is far superior than the American mailbox system.

The next morning the three guys decide to just show up at the family’s house. There they find that Angela and her husband doesn’t look anything like their Facebook pictures, Abby isn’t an artist, Megan is no where to be found and Angela is in fact a housewife who cares for two disabled sons and is the actual person behind the paintings. The filmmakers come to the conclusion that it is Angela who has essentially fabricated an entire life on Facebook, creating fictional profiles for a large network of family and friends and that she is, in fact, in love with Nev

Nev eventually gently confronts Angela about all this and the truth finally comes out. The last half hour or so of the film is spent basically interviewing Angela and her family in order to try and get some kind of handle of just who she is. It’s revealed through these interviews that she basically carried out the lie in order to vicariously experience a life she had given up on in order to have the family she has now. During most of her interviews, Angela is seen making a sketch of Nev. When everything is all over Nev returns to New York where he finally receives Angela‘s portrait of himself.

So yeah, that’s basically the film. And it’s a well told story with many interesting turns and twists and you never really lose interest but by far the biggest question surrounding this film is it’s veracity. Are the events pictured real or is it all an elaborate hoax. It does seem as though things play out so nicely that it’s almost unbelievable but I’ve let documentaries slide for that before, the fantastic ‘King of Kong’ being a good example.

Still, there’s something else that just drives me to believe that the whole thing is fabricated and that’s the way people speak, especially the three filmmakers. It just seems to me as though they are saying things that they had planned out and trying to make it sound natural. I’ll admit this could be simply due to the presence of a camera. I’ve seen people just talking about stuff and coming off completely differently simply because they are being filmed. Still, these guys just come off so unnatural to me that I have a hard time believing that the film is a true documentary.

There’s also a scene where they’re talking about chickens and apparently none of them knew that chickens lay one egg a day. Really? Are you shitting me? Who the fuck doesn’t know that? I know that they live in New York but surely they must have learnt that at some point in their lives. The whole thing, again, comes of as something written that they thought would be a wacky little conversation because seriously, I refuse to believe that there’s anyone who has heard of chickens that doesn’t know that they lay an egg a day. I mean Jesus fucking Christ!

Ahem. Whether or not the film is real there are a couple things that just rubbed me up the wrong way. The first is the unrepentant douchebaggery of the three main characters. They just seem so smug to me that I just found them genuinely annoying and I was kinda glad that they’d been played for fools. The second thing is the style of the film. Something about how heavily it relied on the internet imagery pissed me off as well. Yes, I understand it’s a documentary about people meeting and forming relationships over the internet but do I really need to see Google Maps every time they go travelling? And I swear this film had showed Facebook more fucking times than ‘The Social Network’ did. It just seemed as though they were saying “Look! The internet exists and we’re using it a lot in our movie! Aren’t we current and up to date!” It just irritated the hell out of me and I realise that’s more my problem than the films but still.

Despite these flaws, it is a interesting story, true or not, about the perils of relationships with strangers over the internet and one which is certainly relevant right now what with the release of ‘The Social Network’ and Mark Zuckerberg being name ‘Times’ man of the year. Yes, 2010 was the year of Facebook and ‘Catfish’ is another part of that. Overall I’ll give it 3 out of 5.




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