Watch The Surreal 1960s Films and Commercials of Jim Henson

Today marks the 77th anniver­sary of Jim Hen­son’s birth. To cel­e­brate the pup­peteer, film­mak­er, and Mup­pet inven­tor’s life and career, we offer here three of his ear­ly short works. Most of us know only cer­tain high-pro­file pieces of Hen­son’s oeu­vre: The Mup­pet Show, the Mup­pet movies, Sesame Street, or per­haps such pic­tures now much attend­ed on the camp revival cir­cuit as Labyrinth and The Dark Crys­tal. But even by the Mup­pet Show’s 1974 debut, Hen­son (1936–1990) had already put in decades devel­op­ing his dis­tinc­tive aes­thet­ic of pup­pets and pup­petry. We’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured the unchar­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly vio­lent com­mer­cials he pro­duced for Wilkins Cof­fee between 1957 and 1961 and Lim­bo, the Orga­nized Mind, his sev­en­ties trip of a John­ny Car­son seg­ment. But unless you count your­self as a seri­ous Hen­son, fan, you prob­a­bly haven’t yet seen the likes of Mem­o­ries, The Paper­work Explo­sion, and Rip­ples. Cre­at­ing each of these shorts, the young Hen­son col­lab­o­rat­ed with pianist, jazz com­pos­er, and sound engi­neer Ray­mond Scott, now remem­bered as a pio­neer in mod­ern elec­tron­ic music.

The par­tic­u­lar sound of Scott, no stranger to scor­ing car­toons (we’ve by now heard it in every­thing from Looney Tunes to Ren and Stimpy to The Simp­sons), also suit­ed the sorts of visions Hen­son real­ized for his var­i­ous projects of the six­ties. Mem­o­ries, which plunges into a man’s mind as he remem­bers (with nar­ra­tion by Hen­son him­self) one par­tic­u­lar­ly pleas­ant after­noon near­ly ruined by a headache, appeared in 1967 as a con­tin­u­a­tion of Hen­son’s com­mer­cial career; the pain reliev­er Bufferin, you see, lit­er­al­ly saved the day. That same year, the com­mer­cial (and in form, almost mini-doc­u­men­tary) The Paper­work Explo­sion illus­trates the time- space‑, and labor-sav­ing advan­tages of IBM’s then-new word-pro­cess­ing sys­tem, the MT/STRip­ples Hen­son and Scott put togeth­er for Mon­tre­al’s Expo 1967. It takes place, like Mem­o­ries and Lim­bo, inside human con­scious­ness: an archi­tect (Sesame Street writer-pro­duc­er Jon Stone) drops a sug­ar cube in his cof­fee, and its rip­ples trig­ger a mem­o­ry of throw­ing peb­bles into a pond, which itself sends rip­ples through a host of his oth­er poten­tial thoughts. You’ve got to watch to under­stand how Hen­son and Scott pulled this off; con­ve­nient­ly, they only take one minute to do it.

For more ear­ly works by Hen­son, see this Metafil­ter post.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

Jim Henson’s Orig­i­nal, Spunky Pitch for The Mup­pet Show

Jim Hen­son Pilots The Mup­pet Show with Adult Episode, “Sex and Vio­lence” (1975)

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

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les PrimerFol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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