Heroes & Grouches

I am eight days and seventeen films in to the Hot Docs Film Festival.  I have seen many things.  Some shocking, some inspiring, some humbling.  Some frankly boring.  I know now I should never eat sugar again and that getting to Virunga National Park is a must-do on the life list.  I do not need to befriend any alcoholic Swedes and I should really try to avoid a prison term of any length.  I also had the opportunity to meet one of my idols.

I suspect it is almost impossible that anyone of my generation could NOT have been exposed to Sesame Street as a child.  I certainly was, so seeing “I am Big Bird:  The Caroll Spinney Story” was a delightful treat.  It is a beautifully well wrought documentary that charts not only evolution of the characters Caroll plays but also the arc of his own life which includes one of the deepest loving partnerships that I have ever witnessed.  Caroll and his wife Deb are an inspiration and a lesson in devotion.  I actually felt almost saddened as I do not think I will ever be loved as much as these two care for one another.

Caroll has been a member of the Sesame Street cast for 45 years and has played Big Bird for the entire time.  Big Bird is quite nice.  Childlike, innocent, and kind.  Whatever.  The real attraction for me was the fact that Caroll is also the puppeteer for Oscar the Grouch who (coming as a shock to no one who knows me) I adore.  Caroll Spinney was at the Q&A session following the screening and dammit if he didn’t reach into his bag and pull Oscar out!  There was a surge through crowd like a rock star had dropped in.  I honestly don’t know if Bono or Madonna would have gotten a better reaction.

Oscar is taller than I expected.

The second Caroll slid his hand in, Oscar was alive.  There was no sense that they were the same person – they had distinct personalities and they kibbitzed like old friends which I suppose they really are.  The was some discussion during the film  that Oscar would probably never have been given the go-ahead if he were introduced today as he is too negative.  I think he makes a brilliant counterpoint to the saccharine that kids are force fed there days.  I would say I was unaffected by Oscar’s negativity but I am a notoriously cranky player so who really knows.  What I did take away was the fact that of all the Sesame Street characters I like the dysfunctional ones.  The crabby (Oscar), the compulsive baked goods addict (Cookie Monster), the anti social phantasm (Snuffleupagus*).

On reading this back it actually explains a LOT.












* I just discovered on google that Snuffy’s first name is Aloysius, which delights me to no end.

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