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Tag Archive: Kevin Clash


Review by C.J. Bunce

Nothing in my lifetime in the fantasy genre has had an impact as great as Jim Henson, his creations, and influence.  That stretches to The Muppet Show and The Muppet Movie, tangent puppet creations like Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, and Henson’s masterwork, the 1982 holiday release The Dark Crystal.  So nothing could be greater than to revisit The Dark Crystal in a new incarnation, and not only find the people behind it got it right, but set a new standard in storytelling along the way.  No visual storytelling medium is older than puppetry, and nothing reaches inside you like a story told with creations you know aren’t real, yet when done exceptionally well they convey every emotion as if they were real.  The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, now streaming on Netflix, sets a new bar because it expands on the original film’s story, bringing to life a larger, fully fleshed-out world and a timeless tale that firmly installs the name Henson (Jim and daughters Lisa and Cheryl) as equal to fantasists like the Grimms, Kipling, Milne, Howard, Tolkien, Lewis, Beagle, Harryhausen, Lucas, Jackson, and Rowling.  “Wonder” should be the Henson family hallmark.  Beyond that, the series surpasses the best fantasy of television and big-screen productions, so from here on audiences may ask comparatively, “Yes, but does it convey the emotion and wonder The Dark Crystal series created?”

Dynamic, thrilling, suspenseful, and full of action, mythology, sorcery, good and evil, despair and triumph, swashbuckling adventure, unimaginable beauty and love for nature and community, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance presents better than anything before what every other fantasy before it seems to stumble on: Stakes.  The preparation of the viewer for a world of dire fantasy stakes couldn’t have been more artfully revealed.  What is at stake in the film isn’t just another “end of the world” story, but something that reaches in and makes you believe a stack of rocks can be lovable, the innocent can rise against the darkest evil, where the world of humans and their conflicts is not a consideration, and where you may find you want a hug from a giant spider.  Glorious, ground-breaking, faithful to the original, with thousands of creators making a film in a spectacularly difficult way, it more than fulfills its promise.

You could heap all sorts of praise on the series, beyond Netflix for betting its money on a prequel, the Hensons and original visionary family the Frouds, beyond director Louis Leterrier, writers Jeffrey Addiss, Will Matthews, and Javier Grillo-Marxuach, haunting music by Daniel Pemberton, the spectacular assemblage of voice actors, from Simon Pegg and Warrick Brownlow-Pike (who perfectly resurrected Chamberlain the Skeksis, one of fantasy’s greatest villains) to Donna Kimball and Kevin Clash (resurrecting fantasy’s greatest sorceress, Aughra).  The unsung heroes will be those puppeteers and the designers of the production, the puppets, the costumes, and props.  There’s not a big enough award for this series or its many creators, artists, and artisans, and all that had to come together to make it.  A glimpse behind the scenes can be found in a must-see feature following the ten episodes of the series.

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labyrinth-the-ultimate-visual-history

Fans of Jim Henson are always waiting for the next pebble of gold about the beloved creator of the Muppets and other fantastical creations on the big and small screen. Whether via a retrospective image or a story from someone who worked with him, it’s as if we need to make up for the time stolen from us by his untimely death by seeking out every snippet of his life we can find.  The latest treasure chest of Henson memorabilia is Paula M. Block and Terry J. Erdmann’s beautiful hardcover, 30th anniversary celebration Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: The Ultimate Visual History, published by Insight Editions.  Labyrinth, the 1986 fantasy classic that starred rock star David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly decades before she’d be awarded an Oscar, is in a small class of cult classic fantasies that came out of the 1980s that included The Princess Bride, Willow, and Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal. 

Like so many of those “vault” books published for big genre franchises, Labyrinth: The Ultimate Visual History is not simply a book of high quality photographs of behind-the-scenes views of the cast, creatures, and crew and images of concept art, it’s all that plus more. Like more than 20 inserts reproducing treasures from the Henson Archives, including a pull-out of the full-color, theatrical one-sheet movie poster created for the film by Ted CoConis.  You’ll find classic style tipped-in concept art, draft script pages, and memos from Henson, with many items showing his hand-written notes.  

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I streamed the digital edition of Labyrinth (available here) to re-familiarize myself with the film before reading this new work, and was pleased to see every human character, every creature (all those goblins!), every scene, and every magical effect discussed in detail in this volume.  Three key images came to mind from viewing the film years ago: Bowie walking the M.C. Escher room in the show’s climax with a crazy upward, almost Michael Jackson-inspired move (turns out a stuntman worked the scene), Bowie’s flawless contact juggling of crystal balls (we learnit was a professional juggler’s arm actually doing the trick), and the masked ball (a pre-Star Trek Gates McFadden helped coordinate the scene).  Each of the scenes and production steps are described through contemporary or recent interviews with Jim Henson, Brian Henson and his siblings, Brian Froud (whose incredible concept art is sprinkled through the book and incorporated into its layout design), Toby (the striped baby) Froud, creature makers and players Kevin Clash and Dave Goelz, executive producer George Lucas, and actors Connelly and Bowie, among many others.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

You can be anything you want to be.

It’s a phrase I heard over and over growing up, and is probably the best thing you can share with someone, especially someone who dreams big.

Kevin Clash is one of those kids that dreamed big.  Kevin is the man, and the hand and voice (and heart and soul), behind Elmo, the ticklish red furry kid from Sesame Street that hit TVs and toy stores in a really big way more than a decade ago now.  A Special Jury Prize winner at the Sundance Film Festival last year, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey, is a thoughtful, inspiring and poignant look into the desire, preparation, planning, practice, and work, creating the magic of puppets, and specifically one of the most successful members of the most famous bands of puppets ever–the Muppets.

The healing power of make-believe is revealed in a way that viewers probably have never had access to before.  Entertainment is often viewed by society as trivial.  The enormity of the value of making people laugh and teaching basic principles of kindness is palpable, and the eyes of the young and old as they watch Elmo and his puppeteer is pretty incredible.  Even with a man standing and obviously holding this red floppy fellow who is all smile and giggles, people ignore the man as if he is not there.  It’s truly a magician in action, but more than that this documentary reveals a creator who is clearly kind himself, clearly thoughtful and cognizant of the importance of what he is doing.  The gravity of this comes through with a visit from a young girl who is part of a Kids with a Wish experience.

What Clash does is make his work look so simple.  As another puppeteer in the film says, Clash makes a piece of fabric with a human head, react like a human being would.  Elmo became so big, yet only now do we learn all that went behind that fame, and that it was primarily the vision of one very busy man.  And it resulted in the highest paid puppeteer ever.

With numerous puppeteers and entertainers commenting on Clash’s work and personal traits, and narration by Whoopi Goldberg, a real-life “wizard behind the curtain” emerges.  We get to walk along with someone’s journey of discovery of a field we might not all have thought about, yet maybe secretly wish we know more about, and learn how you can grow up on Sesame Street, and dream about becoming a part of it, and making that dream come true.

Several themes permeate this documentary–the importance of shows like Sesame Street and Captain Kangaroo and public television to education and younger learning and personal growth for more than one generation, the value of mentoring and apprentice-type relationships, especially in ensuring the survival of more obscure forms of art, identifying the creative spark in someone and helping to encourage creative abilities, and the “blood, sweat, and tears” required to fulfill a dream.

Look also for Clash’s link to Jim Henson and The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth before he was 25 years old, and the iconic presence and impact of Jim Henson on him and others.  Not covered are the other things Clash has done, like serve as the voice of Splinter in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie series, as well as several public appearances and puppet work.

I’ve heard of several friends who are struggling with their Netflix subscriptions because they are running out of things–it’s the old story of having 300 channels on cable with nothing to watch.   Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey is an example of something you might otherwise miss while trolling for something to watch, and it’s well worth your time.  Note that it’s not a documentary for kids–little ones should probably wait a bit before seeing that their furry TV friends are made with rods and have hands up their backs.