I Am Big Bird: The Carroll Spinney Story (2015; Dave LaMattina and Chad N. Walker)
By Daniel Barnes
A behind-the-scenes documentary about puppeteer Caroll Spinney, who played Big Bird (and Oscar the Grouch) for nearly fifty years. I Am Big Bird is a fascinating, open and affecting look at the little white-haired man inside of the giant yellow suit. Withdrawn, childlike, curious, and mercurial, Spinney is not unlike his two iconic characters.
Spinney takes us from his abusive upbringing to his Air Force service to a chance encounter with Jim Henson that led to his big break. He walks us through his rough early years on Sesame Street as an unaggressive performer amongst puppeteer gods. He wore the yellow suit through a bitter divorce (“Inside, I was dying.” Oh God, don’t cry, Big Bird! Don’t cry!), into international fame, on a groundbreaking trip to 1980s China, and onstage at Jim Henson’s memorial service. If you can sit stone-faced and dry-eyed through this sequence, then you may want to have a cardiologist check out that smoldering chunk of black char you call a heart.
In the process, Spinney became one of the most recognizable figures on Earth while remaining isolated and unknown behind the beak and yellow feathers. More than anything, this affectionate film makes for a lovely coming out party.