From a Muppet dick to a Muppet doc:
Now that I’ve submitted my entry for the year’s greatest lede, we can move on to today’s subject: the new documentary Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street.
Longtime readers of Write All Nite will be all-too familiar with my thoughts on the increasingly tried, true, and tired structure of commercial documentaries; I’ve literally written too many pieces on the topic to hyperlink them here. Coincidentally (or maybe not?), the title Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street captures both the movie’s conformity and its novelty in relation to this structure.
The title’s second half would lead us to believe that we’re in store for another straightforward chronicling of the series’ behind-the-scenes making-of, told through the typical combination of archival footage, shallow historical context, and an assortment of talking-heads — from direct first-person sources to commentary by outside observers on the show’s impact.
For my taste, the documentary boasts too much of this simple regaling. But, similar to how the “Street Gang” portion of the title is an unusual moniker, so too does Street Gang have more up its sleeve than the title’s second-half conveys.
Though the talking-heads talk away, Street Gang largely deviates from a chronological telling, with the exception of the understandable set-up. Instead of telling the linear story of how Sesame Street came to be, the documentary opts to bounce around from one interesting aspect of the show to another. It trades a more holistic overview for one steeped in the personal specifics of the talking-heads’ subjective perspectives, favoring granular-friendly insights and anecdotes often lost in more zoomed-out Wikipedia documentaries.
Though this decision may make the documentary feel more scatterbrained than audiences are accustomed to, it also hopefully inspires them to draw their own connections between the doc’s myriad focuses. History is often reduced to a single narrative, aided by too-clear transitions from one point to the next, betraying its multi-faceted complexity. Though it utilizes the same mechanisms of cliche documentaries, Street Gang‘s looser structure hews closer to how history actually unfolds and is remembered and memorialized: by whatever sticks in the psyches of the participants.