Memories…Days Gone By

The theater is dimly lit, just enough light to find a seat, all stiff-backed and scarlet cushioned, polished wood arm rests gleaming in a reflected glow. The seats fan out from a pair of aisles that reach from glass-paned entry doors to protruding stage where an ornately decorated proscenium arch reveals red drapes framing the screen. Although a balcony shields the rear rows, up front one may watch clouds float by overhead, concealing and revealing stars surrounded by the ornate trappings of a Spanish courtyard. As the audience gathers, the smell of popcorn wafts through the air and the theater’s pipe organ croons “How High the Moon.”

It somehow seems fitting that I should have watched Being Elmo, a film that took me back to childhood, in this setting. Nearly demolished in the late 1970s, but granted a reprieve a week before the wrecking ball descended, the restored Canton Palace Theatre is today typically the only local theater to show art or foreign films. Much to my surprise and excitement, the most recent offering was a showing of Being Elmo, a documentary about the life of Elmo’s puppeteer, Kevin Clash.

Now, I don’t really remember Elmo from my days of Sesame Street watching; the monsters I remember were Cookie Monster and Grover, the latter my favorite Sesame Street inhabitant. According to Wikipedia, Elmo as voiced by Clash first appeared in 1985, so I almost certainly saw the furry red monster when I was little, but he apparently didn’t have near the popularity he does today. But I didn’t need to have fallen in love with Elmo as a child to mange to sit through the documentary with a ridiculous grin on my face nearly the entire time (some sad moments aside).

The story in Being Elmo is almost ordinary: a boy with a dream who works hard and achieves his dream with the attendant ups and downs. But there is something compelling about his dream that pulls one back to childhood and the realm of a thousand possibilities. Watching the adoring smiles of children, completely believing in Elmo’s reality despite the man behind him, seeing the archival footage of a young Clash meeting his idols and learning the secrets to their craft, following the path of his career as he gets closer and closer to meeting Henson and then ultimately working for Henson’s studios, I cannot help but grin. Or perhaps I really am just five.

5 thoughts on “Memories…Days Gone By”

  1. If you are five then I am too. I am very familiar with Elmo from having a child who grew up watching Sesame Street in addition to the whole “tickle me Elmo” craze that happened one Christmas. It is no secret that I grew up watching the “original” Sesame Street as well as my favorite Henson vehicle, The Muppet Show, and I truly consider what these puppeteers do as a special kind of magic. It isn’t just kids, I’ve read and seen interviews where the adults end up talking directly to the puppets/Muppets because they are so very much alive.

    I don’t know that I’ll get out to see this in the theater, but it is on my list of must-see docs.

    And I love old theaters. Old building in general, actually. We have a few here in Kansas City and like you mentioned are one of the few places one can go to see foreign, art or just small films. Other than the driving to get there I don’t mind it though, as catching that special foreign or small independent film on the big screen is just a little sweeter at a theater with some character.

  2. It really is magical! I’ve seen the various Muppet Movies (including the most recent), but I still haven’t managed to see any of The Muppet Show, but it is now on my list for viewing sometimes soon!

    Any film, I think is better in an old theater. The one above also shows recent “Hollywood Hits” on many Saturdays/Sundays and even a typical Hollywood film is improved in its atmosphere. (Bonus: no commercials!) It’s also cheaper ($5!) and actually closer to me than the local cineplex.

  3. I can barely remember Elmo either, like yours, my favourite characters were Grover and the Cookie Monster (I think the latter influenced me a little too much 😉
    Anyway, I do completely understand you. After all the magic of childhood is that then really anything is possible.

    1. I think Cookie Monster can be a bit of a bad influence, can’t he? That must be why he eats his vegetable now, too.

      I miss that childhood magic. Sigh.

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