Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Talking About Muppet Guys Talking!

I just finished watching Muppet Guys Talking, and it simply striking in so many ways.

The first thing you notice right away is just how raw it feels. From the opening titles to Frank Oz's intro you can tell you're in for something different. 

This isn't a glamours documentary with depth of field shots, or a behind the scenes special on how the things are made. 

The man who took the Muppets to Manhattan, had a signing plant destroy skid row, let dirty rotten scoundrels out to play, and tied Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin into a bowfinger, strips it all away to simply let you enjoy the company around him.

In some of the promotional materials Oz called it "Shooting Dirty" and the end result is both jarring and conversely relaxing.

Frank is joined in warn leather couches in an almost empty brick room with his
longtime collaborators and friends Jerry Nelson, Fran Brill, Dave Goelz, and Bill Barretta. Immediately you get the sense that your just a fly on the wall listening as these old friends swap stories about working together and with Jim Henson. 

They talk at length about their dearly departed leader and the lengths he would go to bring magic to the screen. They also briefly delve into working with their other friends that have passed on like Richard "Richie" Hunt, Jerry Juhl, and Don Sahlin. Here is where I would have liked to have seen a little more archival footage, especially of Richard and Jim. Their lost stories and interactions are a painful reminder of that they left us all too soon. It should also be said that Jerry Nelson passed away not long after filming. 

You may recall that Jerry died in 2012, while the copyright on the screener I received said 2016. It goes to show just how long it's taken to get this little film out to the world.

The film is very much aimed at Muppet fans who already have a working knowledge of the people and characters each of these "guys" brought to the screen over years.

It'll be interesting to see the reaction by some of the more conservative Henson fans when they learn that not only were the Muppets not made for kids - not even Sesame Street to an extent, but to hear the "shit" litteraly fly a few times in a "Muppet" movie.  

The elephant in room is everyone/ thing they don't mention. While I don't expect them to name drop every single performer, writer, and director, they do not mention Louise Gold one of the few female performers, any of the recasts or how they were handled - not even the characters Bill Baretta took over, any of the second generation performers, any of the human cast of Sesame Street, nor Marty Robinson, Kevin Clash, and this is a big one, Steve Whitmire. The loss of these people being recognized for their contribution to The Muppets gives the otherwise familiar vibe of the film a somewhat hollow sting.

Having seen pretty much every Muppet/ Henson special and movie, and having the privilege of seeing most of these performers tell these and similar stories at live events, it was still refreshing to learn new things about each of them while also getting a sense how excruciatingly complex, and at times dangerous, scenes were to pull off. 


I won't spoil it here, but suffice it to say Frank tells the story of the contraption used to create one of the climatic scenes in The Great Muppet Caper. Having watched the film countless times, I thought I for sure knew how they filmed it. If you think you have an idea, I can pretty much guarantee you will be shocked to learn how it was actually done. 

With all the attention Jim paid to filming behind the scenes footage for The Muppet Show (seen in footage from Of Muppet and Men),The Dark Crystal, and Labyrinth (shockingly neither of which is mentioned at all), I'm surprised there isn't much behind and under the scenes photos or film from the early Muppet movies themselves - surely if they existed we would have seen something by now.

That brings me to the clever way the filmmakers illustrate these stories - by 
illustrating them over the frame. This technique lets you see how both complex, and at times simple, some of these techniques and tricks really were.

The low techness of the the whole thing makes it feel like you're just one seat away, hanging out with people who play larger then life characters. It's intimate, sweet, and 
recommended for fans, but I'm not sure those with just a casual appreciation of the Muppets will be willing to sit and hangout.

Muppet Guys Talking will be available this Friday, March 16th at

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