Sundance interview: Watch Kevin Clash and director Constance Marks discuss 'Being Elmo'
PARK CITY - By now, you may have seen my interview with Elmo, the three-year-old red monster from Sesame Street who caused an incredible stir anywhere he showed up during the festival.
The whole reason Elmo was here, of course, was for "Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey," which is the documentary that Constance Marks brought to the fest, a look at the life and work of Kevin Clash, the man who gives both voice and soul to Elmo. And while the short exchange with Elmo was adorable and fun, the real conversation was the one I had with Marks and with Clash.
As I said, when I first showed up at the Yarrow and went upstairs to the conference room where we did the interview, there was a little time to talk to Clash informally, just to sort of ease into things. He and Marks both were excited about the review that our own Dan Fienberg wrote about the film, and they were also amazed by just how fervent the affection for them seemed to be at each of the screenings so far.
What Clash and I really seemed to bond immediately over, though, was our personal histories regarding Jim Henson. I told Clash how it was Jim's passing that motivated me to move to Los Angeles in the first place. I was 20 at the time, and I was marking time in Tampa, Florida, sure that there would be plenty of time for me to conquer Hollywood. Someday. Eventually. For Jim Henson, a fixture in my life since I was conscious of pop culture as a child, to simply disappear one day because of a cold seemed so far beyond the realm of acceptable that it was mere days after his passing that my co-writer Scott Swan and I were in a car with all of our possessions, on our way to Los Angeles.
What's fascinating about Clash's rise through the ranks, from "Captain Kangaroo" and "The Great Space Coaster" to "Labyrinth" to "Sesame Street," is that he's one of the guys now who you absolutely have to keep in the loop when you're talking about where the show's going. He is a custodian of the legacy, and what Marks is trying to do with her film is show us who the man is who is keeping that flame alive these days.
We talked a bit about the way the world of Sesame Street helped shape my own attitudes towards race, eliminating the notion of color as a good or a bad thing entirely. I can only hope my own kids continue to see the world through kind and inclusive eyes, and that there is indeed another chance to speak to Clash in the future. I have a feeling this is just the beginning of a conversation, and certainly not the final word on him or his work.
"Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey" still does not have a distributor, but I'd be stunned if this one doesn't find its way in front of a larger audience in the very near future, and it sounds like Constance Marks is about to have a journey of her own as the film is embraced around the world.