Time Piece is an experimental short film produced, directed, and written by Jim Henson, who also played the leading role. It is his most noted live action production not involving puppetry.
Henson began the project in the spring of 1964 (initially titling it Time to Go) and continued to work on it for nearly a year, between commercial projects and various Muppet television appearances. The short film premiered on May 6, 1965 at the Museum of Modern Art and was distributed through Pathe Contemporary films to arthouse theaters and the film festival circuit. It played in New York City along with the French feature A Man and a Woman.
The surrealist film, which runs slightly less than 9 minutes, follows a nameless man who lies in a hospital bed awaiting examination by a doctor through a wide range of experiences. Mundane daily activities are intercut with surreal fantasy and pop-culture references. The relentless passage of time is a recurring motif, both visually, through various clocks, and aurally, through a rhythmic percussion soundtrack which "ticks away" throughout. Key setpieces include an examination of workplace drudgery, a prolonged dinner sequence (intended as a spoof of a scene from the film Tom Jones), and a nightclub visit satirizing the striptease (including a dancing roast chicken and a marionette skeleton). The man also rides a pogo stick, shoots the Mona Lisa, escapes from prison, and gradually applies a coat of pink paint to a living elephant. He assumes different costumes and identities throughout, from Tarzan to a cowboy, and repeatedly utters the only dialogue in the film, a plaintive cry of "Help!" from increasingly incongruous and perilous positions.
Apart from the rapid montage cutting and superimposition of objects, Jim Henson used animation heavily to create an impressionistic feel. He personally animated scenes of moving patterns, anticipating those later utilized in various Sesame Street inserts. Don Sahlin supervised the use of pixillation and reverse motion to further "stylize" the movements.
- May 6, 1965 — premiere at Museum of Modern Art followed by theatrical run
- 2017 — made available on the FilmStruck streaming service (until May 5, 2018)
- April 2018 — the film was rescanned in high definition and shown at the Jim Henson Retrospectacle
- Fall 2018 — the HD scan became available to stream on Fandor.
- Seagrams receives a "Special Thanks" credit, for multiple shots of Seagrams liquor bottles in the film. Also thanked are Karl F. Meyer Clock Shop (for supplying the time pieces) and Restaurant Copain (where the dinner scene was filmed).
- At a MuppetFest panel, Kirk Thatcher stated that one of Henson's daughters portrayed the toddler seen running around during the "strip" montage, but jokingly refused to specify who for fear of strangulation.
- Several Henson Associates employees appear briefly in the film: Frank Oz (as a messenger, in a gorilla suit, and the stand in for The Man in the hospital bed at the end), Jerry Juhl, Don Sahlin, and Diana Birkenfield.
- The remainder of the cast and crew was largely composed of a range of New York-based "bohemian" artists. Portrait artist Enid Cafritz, burlesque stripper April March, Broadway dancer Barbara Richman, and drummer Dave Bailey all appeared on-camera. Behind the camera, cinematographer Ted Nemeth had produced experimental animated films with wife Mary-Ellen Bute. The sound department included Bill Schwartau (engineer for Duke Ellington and Peter, Paul, and Mary records), Rudy Van Gelder (a pioneer in the jazz field for his work with the Blue Note label, and still active in film), and Frank C. Andriello (harmonica player and former member of the all-harmonica quartet The Polka Dots). Percussion was supplied by George Devens, referred to in All Music Guide as the most prolific vibraphone player in the recording industry, and Ed Shaughnessy, long time drummer on The Tonight Show.
Time Piece received several film festival awards, including the Blue Ribbon Award from the American Film festival in 1967, and was nominated for an Academy Award in the "Best Short Subject, Live Action Subjects" category.
- Jim Henson as the Man
- Enid Cafritz as the Wife
- With the Talents of
- Director of Photography: Ted Nemeth
- Music: Don Sebesky
- Percussion: Ed Shaunessy, George Devens
- Music Recorded by: Rudy Van Gelder
- Costumes and Makeup: Carroll Conroy
- Sound Effects: Frank C. Andriello
- Sound Effects Recorded by: Bill Schwartau
- Animation: Jim Henson
- Special Effects: Don Sahlin
- Written and Directed by: Jim Henson
- Produced by Muppets Inc.
- Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones (page 110)
- 1979 PBS promotional release
- lifeformz.com blog by Brian Stokes, August 15, 2008
- FilmStruck.com title listing
- "Interview: Jim Henson Legacy’s Craig Shemin talks Retrospectacle", Flickz.co.nz