Today is Jim Henson’s birthday, and though the man himself, sadly, is not here with us to enjoy it, his wonderful and influential legacy lives on.
You probably know of Jim Henson only from his work with the Muppets. This all by itself was a groundbreaking advance, one now so familiar that we generally take it for granted. After all, the many innovations that went into Henson’s Muppets — advances such as placing the camera in the moving puppet’s eye plane, having puppeteers “act for the camera” (while looking into a monitor), abandoning the traditional marionette for a far more expressive soft puppet — led to the first true mass success for puppetry, the first time puppetry truly became an integral part of the twentieth century broadcast revolution.
But there was a lot more to Jim Henson than his most well known success. He was one of those restless geniuses who keeps inventing and reinventing, always coming up with new genres and ways of seeing. To take just one example, you were probably not aware of his wonderful surrealist short film Time Piece. In 1966 it was nominated for an Academy Award. I think it should have won.