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Henson's Place: The Man Behind the Muppets
Henson's Place: The Man Behind the Muppets is a 1984 documentary made for British television. Running a scant 52-minutes in length, it covers a lot of ground in a short amount of time. It begins...well, it begins at the beginning, as legendary puppeteer Jim Henson details his discovery of puppets as art and how he adapted a classic style of entertainment for the television screen. It ends during the production of the Fraggle Rock series and looks at the early stages of the Henson team's preparation for their film Labyrinth.
In between, we see how Henson took his Muppets down to Sesame Street before spinning off into his own The Muppet Show. Can you believe the variety program was originally rejected by all three major television networks in America? It was actually produced in England based on a handshake deal, starting five successful years around the world. The U.S. had to play catch-up. Go, Team U.S.A.!
To tell the story, Henson is joined by his wife Jane, a puppeteer in her own right, and his regular creative partner, the Bert to his Ernie, Frank Oz. Also, various production colleagues and a few of the Muppets themselves put their two cents in. The vaults are opened and we see rare black-and-white footage of Henson's earliest efforts, and even get a glimpse at the first sketches of Big Bird. Fans of peeking behind the curtain will also enjoy seeing on-set footage of The Muppet Show and the Henson workshops, with props and characters from Dark Crystal, the Fraggles, and Labyrinth.
Directed by television veteran Tim Conrad, Henson's Place is an efficient, informative piece of work. It'll sit nicely alongside your other Muppet DVDs, though like another recent Henson-related release, Sesame Street: 20 Years...and Still Counting!, it would have probably made an excellent special feature rather than having its own disc. Or maybe someone could have put together a new documentary to cover the Henson Company's many endeavors since 1984, including how Henson's son stepped into his late father's shoes. Now that would be something!
This full frame production was made for television in 1984, and it looks it. The video source is faded and a little soft, and you will see some digital combing. It's hard to say how such a program was preserved, it pretty much looks like how you'd imagine it would look, particularly if you've seen other older news shows as extras on DVDs. Not horrible, not great, it is what it is.
A very basic Dolby mix gets the job done. Some of the tones come off a little fuzzy, but everything is clear and audible. English and Spanish subtitles are available, including Closed Captioning.
A half-hour extra showcasing the Jim Henson Company Yearbook marking their 1985-86 production year is shown, page by page, as a video piece. The start of it features an audio introduction by Michael Frith, who was on staff and helped put the book together. It is modeled after a school yearbook and shows the people who worked for the studio and their accomplishments in a humorous manner. As something to sit down and watch, it's a little dull, you might want to hit your speed button once or twice.
There are also trailers for other Lionsgate releases.
Recommended. Henson's Place: The Man Behind the Muppets is good for what it is: a short overview of Jim Henson's career--at least up until 1984 when this television special was made. It offers rare footage of the Muppet man at work, as well as a candid interview that illuminates his philosophy about entertainment and why he was drawn to puppeteering. More extras or some kind of update would have made this a better package, but at least the price point isn't too bad. You won't have to dig very far into your couch cushions to gather enough change to get yourself a copy.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with Joelle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent projects include the futuristic romance A Boy and a Girl with Natalie Nourigat; Archer Coe and the Thousand Natural Shocks, a loopy crime tale drawn by Dan Christensen; and the horror miniseries Madame Frankenstein, a collaboration with Megan Levens. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.