Jim Henson Documentary

Jim Henson is the mastermind behind the beloved characters known as The Muppets, and he also had a hand in making the iconic series Sesame Street. But before getting deep into puppet entertainment, Henson also wrote, directed, produced, and even starred in several experimental short films between 1964 and 1969. One of those films even earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Live-Action Short Film.

Now, thanks to ShortsTV, you can get a look at Jim Henson’s earliest works in Jim Henson: The Early Works, a collection of the filmmaker’s shorts made before The Muppets became a big deal. Then, you can follow it up with a vintage deep dive into all the work he did with The Muppets, Sesame Street, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and more thanks to the 45-minute documentary Henson’s Place: The Man Behind the Muppets.

Since everyone knows Jim Henson’s work with The Muppets and the various puppet characters that followed, ShortsTV kicks off their Jim Henson programming with the documentary short Henson’s Place: The Man Behind the Muppets at 9:30pm ET tonight. Made in 1984, the documentary takes a close look at the work Henson did with his signature characters, and it even features interviews with the likes of Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy, not to mention Jane Henson and Frank Oz.

This is a real slice of Jim Henson at the height of his success with a lot of insight into how The Muppets and the rest of his creations came to be such entertainment staples. The documentary explores Jim Henson’s famous workshop, The Muppet Show in all its glory, the creation of Sesame Street, the series Sam and Friends, and even Henson’s work with Saturday Night Live. Plus, it also looks at his work with the cult favorites The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.

Henson’s Place gives you one of the best looks into the mind of Jim Henson that you’ll find. Not only does Henson discuss the inspiration for his ideas, but it also explores the origins of characters like Kermit the Frog, Big Bird, and more. You also get plenty of insight from those who had worked with him during this time, showing why Henson was truly an artist, a genius even, operating another level of creativity that sometimes forced people to simply let him go off on his own and make his vision real.

Jim Henson - Time Piece

After Henson’s Place, you can dive further back into the work of the man behind the Muppets with Jim Henson: The Early Works. Here, you’ll find a collection of short films much different than what you’re used to seeing from Jim Henson. But each of the shorts has nuggets of what he would become famous for in the coming years, and it’s the first time they’ve aired on US television.

One film of note is Time Piece (seen above), the Oscar-nominated short film that doesn’t really have a traditional narrative, but is driven by rhythm. Henson himself stars in the film as a man who is constantly in motion as noises around him keep time and set his pace. The editing also cuts to the beat of a drum and various sounds made throughout. As the film continues it paints a picture of the passage of time, illustrating some of our most primitive instincts and desires, as well as the way in which we chose to spend our time.

This isn’t exactly the kind of short film you want to show your kids if they happen to be fans of The Muppets. At one point, Henson’s character enters a strip club, and while there isn’t any full-on nudity, there is a scantily clad woman dancing as jazzy drumming helps drive the motion of her body. But it’s a fascinating exercise in editing, time, and experimentation with the medium of film. And the rest of his films are equally as abstract.

Jim Henson: The Early Works, which airs on ShortsTV immediately after the Henson’s Place documentary. If you’ve never heard of ShortsTV before, you can find it on DirecTV (channel 573), AT&T U-Verse (channel 1789), US Sonet (channel 292), CenturyLink (channel 1789), Frontier Communications (channel 1789) and Google Fiber (channel 603). 

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