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Tuesday
Jul052016

REVFEST HAS HAND IN PUPPET MASTER'S LEGACY

Fans of the eclectic slate for which Perth’s annual Revelation International Film Festival has become known won’t be disappointed in 2016. West coasters can choose from the experimental non-dialogue horror of Atmo Horrox, the goat gland documentary Nuts! or the seductive sorcery of The Love Witch, to name a few. Unexpectedly (perhaps even reassuringly), peering out from the darkness will be the pointy-green grin of one of pop culture’s most endearing characters, Kermit the Frog, and the warm, gentle features of his creator, Jim Henson.

Muppets, Music & Magic is Revelations’ sidebar celebration of Henson’s remarkable contribution to showbusiness, featuring eight separate retrospective documentaries that track the development of his unique universe of characters. Also being screened are two of his visionary features, his Tolken-esque fantasy adventure The Dark Crystal (1982) and the cult classic, Labyrinth (1986). The collection is presented in conjunction with The Jim Henson Legacy, an initiative formed in 1992 to preserve and perpetuate the work and spirit of the late genius.

“It’s amazingly comprehensive,” says Revelation Festival Director, Richard Sowada, who recognised that elements of the collection spoke to his festival’s agenda. “I think it’s the deep experimentation and the clarity of vision that’s so appealing to Rev. These artefacts have meaning and purpose and ultimately make a difference to the culture and its inhabitants and they do it in such a lovely way.”

In 1955, Henson was a freshman arts-major at the University of Maryland with drive enough to negotiate a late-night TV slot for his satirical puppet concept called ‘Sam and Friends’ (pictured, right). These early years are explored in the 73-minute presentation ‘Commercials & Experiments’, which features rarely-seen works ranging from corporate training shorts to commercials to avant garde oddities, each revealing an artist exploring and defining his passion and talent.

Although his playfulness is evident in these works, the ‘Jim Henson’ that would become synonymous with children’s entertainment is only fleetingly glimpsed; the radical social change and fearless approach to artistry of the 1960s comes through in works such as Youth ’68, The Cube and his Oscar nominated short, Time Piece. Revelations has included a programme warning that some of the content is for mature audiences (below; a scene from Time Piece).

It was from these early, experimental years that the timeless, occasionally subversive comedy of Sesame Street was launched. At the time of Henson’s passing in May of 1990, then-Chairperson of the show’s producers, The Children’s Television Workshop, Joan Ganz Cooney, said of her friend, “He was our era's Charlie Chaplin, Mae West, W. C. Fields and Marx Brothers, and indeed he drew from all of them to create a new art form that influenced popular culture around the world.” The development and impact of the show is chronicled in His Sesame Street Years, a delirious celebration of Henson’s vision and the dynamic he formed with early collaborators Frank Oz, Fran Brill and Caroll Spinney, each masters of the craft in their own right.

Two clip-compilation documentaries capture the growth of Henson as a performer and the artistry with which his beloved creations were developed. In Performance captures the man honing his comic timing in rare footage of the early years when then voices and personalities of Kermit, Rowlf and The Swedish Chef were cultivated; Behind the Seams looks at the ensemble of world class puppeteers and craftspeople who fell under Henson’s spell and helped create some of the most iconic showbiz moments of all time (pictured, right; Henson in conference on-set with his leading man).

Rounding out the sidebar are two compiles screening under the Mini Rev banner and the State Library of Western Australia. Tales from Muppetland presents the Muppet players take on classic fairytales, with some timeless comedy care of the sesame Street News team thrown in for good measure; and, Muppet Musical Moments features the glorious staging that was created to accompany musical guests from The Muppet Show, including such names as Linda Ronstadt, Julie Andrews, Elton John and Liberace.

(The collection) is a great reflection of Henson’s character and personality,” says Sowada. “There’s no ulterior motive behind any of his work aside from bringing people together. That feeling transcends generations and gives his work real meaning.”

Muppets, Music & Magic: The Jm Henson Legacy screens July 9-15 as part of the 2016 Revelation Perth International Film Festival. Ticket and session details can be found on the events official website.

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