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Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey: The Man Behind Elmo
Elmo was on Sesame Street before Clash joined the show, but he wasn't the smiley, loveable puppet we know today. Elmo used to be a caveman with a gruff voice and it's Clash who turned him into the personification of love; arguably the show's biggest character and definitely the one that sells the most toys.
The documentary traces Clash's career as a puppeteer from the day he made his first puppet out of his father's coat until the present day as he jets around the world training various puppeteers for the international versions of Sesame Street. Even though the film is focused on Clash, we also get to learn quite a bit about the art of puppetry, such as how the puppets made and how their puppeteers come up with personalities and voices for them. You learn to appreciate just how talented these people have to be in a variety of different ways. We also get a sneak peek at the Muppets workshop which is filled with drawers upon drawers of different types of fur, different shaped noses, moustaches and eyes; you name it, they have it.
Stylistically speaking, the film is as simple as you can get. At first, it’s pretty underwhelming as Clash and his parents recount his childhood and how he first got into puppetry. The film kicks into gear as various puppets begin to enter the equation. Clash comes alive whenever he talks about them; he suddenly becomes far more animated and his love for the art is infectious. However, none of them have as powerful an effect on him as Elmo does; he put so much of himself into the character and it comes across loud and clear on screen. There’s something highly positive and uplifting about Elmo that makes you break out in a huge grin – a quality Clash shares with his creation.
The film is quite short but incredibly joyful. It’s a reminder of the people who affected our childhood so much and whose art form is being left behind in the age of Pixar and Dreamworks. Everybody knows how difficult computer animation is so it’s nice to watch a documentary that reminds you that even the old fashioned way of doing things isn’t exactly a piece of cake and is pretty awe inspiring in its own right.
They would try anything as if they had no fear of failure. They weren’t afraid of screwing up because the process and the act of creation were the important parts; if the product ended up sucking it was no big deal because they’d already be at work on the next piece. At least that’s the vibe that the documentary gives off. It also helps that the modern day, grown-up No Wavers seem every bit as cool as they did back then.
He could have been the next Bob Dylan; in South Africa, Zimbabwe, New Zealand and Australia, he was even bigger than Elvis. His music was loved by the critics but ignored by audiences, and after two albums – titled Cold Fact and Coming From Reality – fell on deaf ears in the US, and his efforts proved commercially fruitless, the Detroit street-poet instantaneously fell from the face of the earth, vanishing into complete obscurity.
So, whatever happened to the talented and disturbingly underrated Detroit-born 70's soul-folk musician, Sixto Diaz Rodriguez? That's a question first-time Swedish filmmaker, Malik Bendjelloul, seeks answers to in one of the most compelling and touching music documentaries of the past decade.
Ingeniously titled, Searching for Sugar Man, the story takes us to South Africa where we learn that while Rodriguez never managed to find the artistic and marketable success in the US, his music – thanks to the bootlegging of his first album, Cold Fact – ended up playing a significant role in the apartheid-era. Rodriguez became the voice of the people despite governmental efforts to censor his record's 'offending' tracks; and for many years, he never even knew it.
With only a few pictures of Rodriguez available as proof that he really does exist, his devoted fans never really knew much about their beloved idol. Bizarre rumours surfaced alleging that he had committed suicide onstage during one of his failed performances, either by shooting himself or by setting himself on fire.
Rodriguez's legacy never died, even after the struggling apartheid years were long over. Often referred to as the 'prophet of the people', devoted fans, Segerman and Strydom, set out to undertake research, only to discover that their search only marked the beginning of something greater than initially imagined.
Well paced and cinematically striking, the film doesn’t fall back on simple on-camera interviews and narration, but rather, Bendjelloul adds a sense of intrigue and beauty using an evidently thought-out structure to his storytelling. Dazzling shots of Cape Town's skyline and striking animatics of Rodriguez walking the streets of his hometown play a big part in the story development; as a result there isn't one dull moment.
Rodriguez's songs play throughout the entire film and there is no denying the fact that this man – who was constantly compared to the likes of Dylan and Donovan – was unjustly disregarded. His soulful tracks and profound lyrics score the film and even though there is a sense of melancholy, the story still manages to find room for the positive, ultimately proving that it's never too late to fulfil your dreams.
Searching for Sugar Man is a truly fine documentary and a significant work of art. Although we would have liked to see a little bit more of the live-concert footage, and perhaps gotten to know a little bit more about what's hiding beneath the dark mysterious exterior, Searching for Sugar Man is still highly insightful and thoroughly entertaining.