Muppets on Display

Just across the street from the actual Sesame Street (in Kaufman Astoria Studios) stands an exhibit which shows how to get there.

muppet bloomberg
Muppet Mike Bloomberg at the Museum of the Moving Image

“Jim Henson’s Fantastic World” runs through January 16, 2012 at the Museum of the Moving Image.

The retrospective begins with a room of student work and juvenilia.  This sort of thing is rarely interesting and here the work itself isn’t particularly special.  What is extraordinary -from the very beginning -is how Henson’s creative drive led him to television at an early age and how he, in turn, reshaped the medium.

Tissa David told me once of seeing Jim Henson talk at The New School.  In the most reverent terms she described how he took a sock -no eyes, no lips, nothing, just sock -put it on his hand and turned that piece of laundry into a living creature.  People would talk directly to the sock even though Henson made no play at ventriloquism.

As difficult as it might appear to be, creating a character can be that simple.

The show at the MoMI proves this.  It’s filled with simple sketches of puppets.  From one or two scribbles -Oscar the Grouch, Sweet-ums (the walkabout), and plenty of others are shown -the identity and personality of the character is clear.

The simplicity and charm of these creations should be a starting point for anyone interested in animation.

Many of the drawings on exhibit, it turns out, are contained in a couple books.  These are well worth the (discounted) cover price.

The show gives constant credit to Henson’s collaborators.  In turn, Henson constantly defers to his puppet makers and puppeteers in the many video interviews throughout the space.

When working with Frank Oz several years back I asked him once about his late parter.  I wanted to know if it was true that Henson animated the “New nee new nee new” Typewriter guy from Sesame Street. (Someone had told me he did).  He wasn’t sure, but he did say something like “Jim was the most creative man I’ve ever met.  He would be under the camera doing all these crazy things and they’d turn out beautifully.”