I Am Big Bird: the Carroll Spinney Story

(USA 2014)

I Am Big Bird: the Carroll Spinney Story delivered what it promised: the life story of Carroll Spinney, who became an unlikely icon as Big Bird (not to mention Oscar the grouch). We get tidbits about his artsy mother and crabby father; his fascination with puppetry as a child; his chance meeting with Jim Henson; and nearly quitting Sesame Street during its first season because he didn’t fit in with the cast. We get archival footage and a healthy dose of nostalgia without going overboard. We also get new information; I never knew Spinney was supposed to be a passenger on the ill-fated Challenger mission in 1986, or that he has an understudy. It all adds up to a winner.

Despite everything right with this documentary, however, I left wanting more from it. I don’t know what I expected. Maybe more gossip? Dirt? A drug problem or behind-the-scenes sex? Something. I know, this is Sesame Street we’re talking about, so I accept my disappointment in the lack of any sleaze as my issue. Considering its subject matter, though, I Am Big Bird could have been more fun.

(Gene Siskel Film Center) C



(Norway 2014)

Four high school age boys in Oslo—Kim (Louis Williams), Gunnar (Ole Nicolai Myrvoid Jorgensen), Ola (Halvor Tangen Schultz), and Seb (Havard Jackwitz)—are not very different from most boys their age. They do things like steal hood ornaments from cars, get trashed at school dances, and stalk girls. They love the Beatles, so much that they each adopt a Beatles persona and hatch a plan start a band, the Snafus.

Based on Lars Saabye Christensen’s novel, Beatles is a sugar and salt (the name of a Snafus song) coming of age film. It’s sappy nostalgia celebrating a simpler time—think The Wonder Years with a cooler European bent. Set during the late Sixties, it hits a universal note that stops it from sliding into oversentimental dreck. I love all the Beatles references, and how well the film captures the feel of total devotion to a pop star. One scene in which the four boys stop everything to listen to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on the day it comes out is gold; it reminds me so much of my own idols in the MTV era. Performances are strong all around. Beatles is not the kind of thing I usually go for, but it is easily one of my favorites from the festival.

(St. Anthony Main) B+

Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival