‘Muppet Guys Talking’ is like hanging out with old friends at SXSW

From left, Dave Goelz, Fran Brill, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson and Bill Barretta in “Muppet Guys Talking.” Contributed by 2017 Vibrant Mud LLC

Janet Pierson, the head of SXSW Film, has said that they never intentionally program the festival by theme but that frequently as the schedule comes together each year, a theme emerges. This year, it could be said that looking inside the creative process is one of the major themes that shines through.

With “Muppet Guys Talking – Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched,” Frank Oz brings us an intimate and insightful conversation between five of the original Muppet performers. Filmed in 2012 before the death of Jerry Nelson, it’s not only a fascinating historical document but also a beautiful portrait of old friends who can still crack each other up after decades together.

While they’ve all worked on various projects, this film sticks to their time on “Sesame Street” and “The Muppet Show” for the most part. An initial montage of who played what character is pretty astonishing:

  • Frank Oz (Miss Piggy, Grover, Bert, Cookie Monster, Fozzie Bear, Animal, Sam The Eagle)
  • Jerry Nelson (The Count, Sgt. Floyd Pepper, Mr. Snuggleupagus)
  • Fran Brill (Zoe, Little Bird, Betty Lou, Prairie Dawn)
  • Dave Goelz (Gonzo, Bunsen Honeydew, Zoot)
  • Bill Barretta (Pepe the King Pawn, Johnny Fiama, Bobo the Bear)

For anybody who has ever been an avid viewer of these shows, every passing moment of this film provides tidbits about the characters that these artists helped bring to life that you’ve probably never heard about. And while they’ve all done press and interviews separately over the years, this moment is the only time that they ever sat down with each other to reminisce and look back on their careers. It’s so heartfelt and genuine, we’re truly fortunate to be able to eavesdrop in.

One thing that comes through is the awe and respect that they all retain for their old boss and collaborator Jim Henson. At this point, he’s been gone for nearly three decades, but his influence and passion still shines through today. During the chat, Fran Brill notes: “All of our lives were changed so enormously because we met and worked with Jim. He had more effect on me and who I am than my own parents.”

“Muppet Guys Talking” screens again tonight at 6:00 p.m. at the Alamo South Lamar and at Noon on Thursday at the Paramount.


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