Friday, May 15, 2015


He is one of the most brilliant, gifted actors we've seen for decades.  Yet many didn't know his name and many didn't even know what he looked like.  He's been the puppeteer inside the tall, yellow. feathery and lovable icon from TV's Sesame Street.  Caroll Spinney, an Air Force veteran, gave life, movement and voice to Big Bird.
Is there more man in the bird or more bird in the man?  You'll see that the two are practically one.  This actor loves and is the characters he plays.
I AM BIG BIRD: THE CAROLL SPINNEY STORY runs only about 90 minutes, a documentary like children's programming at its best.  It's simple, direct, well-paced, entertaining and it has a fondness for its audience.  Much of footage is old, but that's fine.  We see the early years of Spinney and what turned him into the famous, beloved TV character he's been playing.  His story covers childhood, young adulthood, employment, love, divorce, love again, death in the workplace family and aging.  First of all, you will be wowed to see the amount of complicated physical toil -- gadgetry included -- that has gone into giving a performance inside that costume.  His playing Big Bird equals what many actors have discovered about children's theater.  It's not as easy as it looks.
Spinney, now a dapper gent in his 80s, speaks with wit, gratitude, affection and honesty.  We hear about his angers and his loves.  We hear about his trials and tribulations.
He is the only person ever to play Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street.  He's done so since 1969.  Here's a trailer for I Am Big Bird:  The Caroll Spinney Story.
This man has given joy and education to youngsters for a long, long time.  He's taken Big Bird to other countries.  His love of his craft started when he was a boy and saw a puppet show.  His mother realized his love of that art and supported it.  One person in the documentary describes his mother as "...a huggable lady.  She was fun."  Spinney added, "She was a great mom."  His father was the opposite.  His dad, like mine, had a bad temper that would put young Caroll in physical and emotional pain.  Parents.  Sometimes they just forget they're bigger than their kids are.  Caroll grew up and found happiness in the Air Force.

When he was pursuing his artistic passion and landed work, he was married.  Married and involved with The Muppets.  But his wife never watched, respected and praised his quality work.  They divorced after 11 years of marriage.

But Caroll Spinney found true love the second time around.  They are still together and still very much in love.  We meet his wife in the documentary too.  Debra is delightful.
And, or course, there's talk of another person he loved. We all did.  He calls Jim Henson "a true genius."  Bird singing at Jim Henson's funeral will break your heart.
Your heart will be touched by the love story that runs through the feature.  That love story is the one between Caroll and his wife.  I never realized the extent and longevity of his artistry.  And he performed under grueling circumstances.  Wait until you see him as Big Bird in China.  That was not an easy shoot.  He is one committed and professional actor.  Like Oscar winning performers, he came up with the voices and physicality for his characters.   In this doc, we also see that children's programming is fun for kids to watch.  However, behind the scenes, it's still a business.  A business that employs talented people with egos and tempers.  People who get ticked off and occasionally drop a word that's more 42nd Street than Sesame Street.

Caroll Spinney was bullied by kids in his youth who thought he was gay.  He's a person who didn't have a totally happy childhood, but he chose not to go through life as an angry man because of it.  He's given millions and millions of children -- many now grown -- the kind of happiness he didn't get from one parent.  He's given them the attention he didn't get from one spouse.  He has added light to the world around him.  There are lessons in this documentary for everyone.  He reminds us all who've felt or do feel emotionally beaten down and at a low point that "...the sun will eventually come out for you."

I Am Big Bird:  The Caroll Spinney Story put tears in my eyes.  It's very moving.

Check to see if this feature is playing at an arthouse movie theater in your vicinity.

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