More Ads & Tinkerdee

Before we reach the next major milestone in Jim Henson’s career there are again a bunch of smaller projects to cover. The first one is actually one of the most interesting we’ve seen yet, featuring the robot puppet with moving gears and smoke that we first caught a fuzzy, black-and-white glimpse of in the Food Fair footage from Hamburg, Germany, although in color and with full detail visible, it looks a bit less steampunk than I had first thought.


Anyway, what’s fascinating about this is that AT&T–which was then the Bell Company–actually hired Jim in 1963 to make the following short film as part of a presentation to air at a seminar for business owners on the new subject of Data Communications, the point of the film being to comment on the continual evolution of the relationship between man and machine, and as you can see below, Jim captured the subject with a wicked sense of humor:



What I love about it is that there’s a real sense of unease to it. While the robot is darkly funny, he’s also vaguely threatening in his godlike egomaniacal “glory”…until that is, he runs out of power and needs “puny” man of all things to wind him back up (not unlike a clock, a recurring symbol through Jim’s work; see “Tick Tock Sick,” his later short film, Time Piece, and Jareth the Goblin King’s 13-hour clock in Labyrinth), and finally to repair him when he completely breaks down. At least as long as machine needs man to turn him on and fix him, man doesn’t need to worry. Though this reliance may not be something we can rely on in the future…


Next up, the following clip is footage of New York City that Jim shot from his apartment window and which offers a nice time-lapse view of the city at night and early evening at this point in history. The sped-up cars and dawn foreshadow some of his directorial/editing choices in Time Piece:



Later the year Jim shot the above footage, Jane and his third child and first son, Brian, was born in November. A few months later, in April ’64, Jim and his family would move to a larger house in Connecticut, though Jim would continue to commute to work in Manhattan. It was around this time that Jim started to work on his aforementioned experimental short film, Time Piece, a passion project that took him nearly a year to complete, in between his commercials and TV appearances (including Jimmy Dean, which continued to run until 1966). But I’ll hold off on discussing it further until we get to 1965, when he finally premiered the completed film at the Museum of Modern Art in NY.


Returning to his ad work, next, we have a commercial that Muppets, Inc. did for Marathon Gas in 1964, which features a very Broadway-sounding ditty sung by two anthropomorphic gas hoses and is particularly notable because, at least as far as the footage I’ve gotten my hands on, it’s the first case of Muppets interacting with the “real world,” so to speak, at a gas store location, interacting with an attendant and customer. And it’s also a great example of how with a bit of imagination and two expressive eyes, practically anything can become a puppet whose existence as a “real” being we come to believe in:



It was around this time that Jim also filmed some commercials for Claussen’s Bread. Like the Purina Dog Chow ads, they shared many similarities with Wilkins and Wontkins, however here with a new, roundish Muppet, Mack, in the Wilkins role and Kermit as Wontkins.

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