A surprisingly moving micro-oral history of “How we made: The Muppet Christmas Carol”:
When I met Michael Caine to talk about playing Scrooge, one of the first things he said was: “I’m going to play this movie like I’m working with the Royal Shakespeare Company. I will never wink, I will never do anything Muppety. I am going to play Scrooge as if it is an utterly dramatic role and there are no puppets around me.” I said: “Yes, bang on!” He was intimidating to start with, but he’s a delight.
No, not his new girlfriend Denise (although I hope for Kermit nothing but happiness), but Steve Whitmire, the puppeteer who became the man behind the frog (and Ernie, and several other beloved characters) after Jim Henson’s death. It’s also a sweet, mournful look into the mystery of puppeteering:
Until Being Elmo, the documentary about long-time Elmo performer Kevin Clash, nobody knew who Clash was. Elmo was just Elmo. Consider the secondary performer, the underling to the already-invisible: They don’t play a fictional character; they gesture a single limb. That dark empty sleeve is the foxhole of puppeteers—you dig in, protecting your neighbor and hope you come back alive. Survive and your own identity awaits. Jerry Nelson began as a right hand for the Muppets in 1965—eventually he would perform one of the most recognizable Sesame Street citizens, Count von Count. If anyone knows the value of digits, it’s a 4-year-old learning their numbers by extending one finger at a time until, finally, their hand is open, the better to grab on.
The Muppets premieres on September 22, and a Jim Henson documentary will air on September 15.
No wonder people think physics and math are so hard. Consider the following from Black Holes and Time Warps by Kip Thorne, a book I’m currently reading:
(pg. 463) Topology is a branch of mathematics that deals with the qualitative ways in which things are connected to each other or to themselves. For example, a coffee cup and a doughnut “have the same topology” because (if they are both made from putty) we can smoothly and continuously deform one into the other without tearing it, that is, without changing any connections.
Thus, we are forced to conclude that doughnuts and coffee cups are made out of putty. Aren’t we?