Jim Henson’s Animated Film, Limbo, the Organized Mind, Presented by Johnny Carson (1974)

Not hav­ing grown up dur­ing the Mup­pets’ first and high­est wave of pop­u­lar­i­ty, I’ve always won­dered how some­thing like The Mup­pet Show could pos­si­bly have attained such main­stream cul­tur­al pri­ma­cy. A friend of mine who did spend his child­hood watch­ing pup­peteer Jim Hen­son’s array of crea­tures do their thing on nation­al tele­vi­sion offers a sim­ple expla­na­tion: “It was the sev­en­ties.” Though Hen­son began his pup­petry career twen­ty years before The Mup­pet Show’s 1974 pilot episode, his dis­tinc­tive­ly earnest yet pre­scient­ly post-psy­che­del­ic vision seemed made for that decade. Amer­i­ca respond­ed by ele­vat­ing his work into the zeit­geist, and not just the stuff prop­er­ly involv­ing Mup­pets. Above, you can watch a 1974 clip from The Tonight Show fea­tur­ing a short per­for­mance from Hen­son and fel­low Mup­peteer Dave Goelz called Lim­bo, the Orga­nized Mind.

Hen­son and Goelz treat John­ny Car­son and the Tonight Show audi­ence to a jour­ney through the brain, as an abstract­ed, hand-oper­at­ed face nar­rates the pas­sage through organ­ic struc­tures like his medul­la oblon­ga­ta, and cere­brum, and the seats of things less defin­able, like thoughts of his fam­i­ly, thoughts of his ene­mies, his “extra-spe­cial sec­tion of good thoughts,” his evil thoughts, and his fears. The score comes from elec­tron­ic com­po­si­tion pio­neer Ray­mond Scott, whose 1964 album Sooth­ing Sounds for Baby has won great respect among enthu­si­asts of ambi­ent music. Watch­ing Lim­bo, the Orga­nized Mind in 2012 brings one obvi­ous lament to mind: why don’t they make such delight­ful­ly eccen­tric and artis­tic tele­vi­sion any­more? But of course they do make it, in stranger and less pre­dictable ways than even Hen­son did, but main­ly in the count­less frag­ment­ed, com­par­a­tive­ly mar­gin­al venues of mod­ern media. Lim­bo aired on a show that half the peo­ple you knew would have seen. It was the sev­en­ties.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Jim Henson’s Vio­lent Wilkins Cof­fee Com­mer­cials (1957–1961)

Jim Henson’s Zany 1963 Robot Film Uncov­ered by AT&T: Watch Online

Jim Hen­son’s Short, Oscar-Nom­i­nat­ed Film (1965)

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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