Is that the weirdest thing about Labyrinth? Or is it that a generation of girls seemed to discover their sexuality by watching this children’s movie?
No, I think the weirdest thing about Labyrinth is that this wonderful and charming film was not a success on its release in 1986.
Yet Labyrinth has had a lively afterlife. The movie became a cult classic on DVD and for fifteen years, it has been celebrated annually in Los Angeles with the Labyrinth of Jareth masked ball. Labyrinth has inspired much fanfiction, fanart and many websites and it is still shown in theatres, now with audience participation (similar to that of The Rocky Horror Picture Show).
Labyrinth is even enjoying something of a critical re-appraisal. One day, it may be ranked with the classic children’s entertainment that is heavily referenced within the film such as Alice In Wonderland, The Wizard Of Oz and Maurice Sendak.
Besides David Bowie, the movie assembled an awesome set of talents. Labyrinth was produced by Star Wars creator, George Lucas, written by Monty Python’s Terry Jones and directed by Jim Henson, the creator of The Muppet Show. Sadly, it was Jim’s last film as he died a few years later of pneumonia.
Jim decided early in the conception of Labyrinth that it should feature a major, charismatic rock star. Some believe that he may have first thought of Michael Jackson for the role, but Henson did state that David Bowie was his first choice and that the part was written with Bowie in mind.
Sarah (played by Jennifer Connelly, who would win an Oscar in 2002) is compelled by her parents to babysit her infant brother, Toby, while her parents go out for the evening.
Influenced by a book she is reading, she calls on the Goblin King to take away her brother. Toby vanishes, stolen by Jareth, the Goblin King played by David Bowie.
On refusing Jareth’s gift of a crystal ball, which will show “your dreams”, Jareth sets her a challenge. Sarah must solve a labyrinth leading to his place within 13 hours in order to rescue Toby, who will otherwise become a goblin forever.
Sarah sets out to rescue her brother and walks into a whole new world of wondrous creatures, of meticulously handmade puppet characters, products of the imagination of Henson and his team. The movie does not use computer-generated imagery or frame animation methods.
Jim Henson said that Labyrinth was a fairy tale for adults with messages about the contrast between appearance and reality and about the change from a “child to a woman”, but Sarah is not yet ready for that transition.
Sarah rejects Jareth and his gifts by saying “You have no power over me”, and she returns home safely with Toby.
The film is enchanting and the attention to detail is a complete joy.
But our interest here is David Bowie. For some, Labyrinth was the way in which they discovered Bowie.
He acted well, taking to the role very naturally.
The New York Times remarked that “David Bowie is perfectly cast”. His own charisma and energy dominate the movie.
It’s also true that having Bowie in the role greatly enhances Jim Henson’s message that this is a coming-of-age movie.
Under Jareth’s power, Sarah dreams that she is at a magnificently weird masquerade ball, where she and Jareth are staring at each other and dancing, infatuated. Bear in mind that at the time of filming, David Bowie was almost forty while Jennifer Connelly was fourteen (not fifteen as reported elsewhere).
The Bowie Bulge!
There are several Facebook Pages which are dedicated to Bowie’s ‘package’ and the self-explanatory term ‘Bowie Bulge’ seems to be in some degree of general circulation.
There is also a Bowie Bulge drinking game, that is, to drink whenever the Bulge appears while watching the movie. When the movie is shown in theatres, the audience screams whenever the Bowie Bulge appears.
We can only wonder what the British royal family’s Diana and Charles thought of the Bulge when they attended Labyrinth’s premiere.
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, he sang in ‘Ziggy Stardust’.
“Came on so loaded man
Well hung and snow white tan”
But you may be surprised to hear that the display of Bowie’s Bulge is entirely deliberate. Labyrinth’s art director (and the real-life father of Toby) Brian Froud explains on the DVD that Bowie’s costumes were deliberately tight.
“He is supposed to be a young girl’s dream of a pop star.”
Several other touches were used to enhance the presentation of Jareth the rock star, such as his leather jackets and his swagger stick (used as a microphone substitute)
‘As The World Falls Down’ is potentially an attractive love song, ‘Magic Dance’ underneath the goofiness is engagingly melodic (and has a great vocal!) and ‘Underground’ is outright a lost minor gem. Of course, the quality of the music far exceeds any modern children’s film.
David seems to have made an impression on award-winning composer Trevor Jones who wrote the soundtrack score (that is, those pieces of music not written by Bowie). Jones remarked on David’s high degree of professionalism in recording the songs. Bowie simply told him over dinner how he wanted his own songs to be performed and then came to London before filming commenced and recorded each night from 6pm to 9pm, quickly completing the work.
Despite any merits of the soundtrack, it is the movie which is now fondly remembered.
Indulge your inner child and watch this under-rated movie right now at Netflix!
Postscript: You remind me of the babe
Jareth: You remind me of the babe.
Goblin: What babe?
Jareth: The babe with the power.
Goblin: What power?
Jareth: The power of voodoo.
Goblin: Who do?
Jareth: You do.
Goblin: Do what?
Jareth: Remind me of the babe.
Why he is saying this to the goblin, instead of Jennifer Connelly, to whom it’s obviously addressed is left unexplained. The dialog is clearly important as it is repeated in a voice-over at the end of the movie.
In ‘Ziggy Stardust’, Bowie tells us that Ziggy was “jiving us that we were voodoo”, but what was on his mind (or Terry Jones’s mind) in Labyrinth was a scene from a 1947 Cary Grant movie called The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, with almost identical dialog. (A bobby-soxer is a mid-century term for a teenage girl.)
Bachelor: Hey, you remind me of a man.
Bobby-Soxer: What man?
Bachelor: The man with the power.
Bobby-Soxer: What power?
Bachelor: The power of hoodoo.
Bachelor: You do.
Bobby-Soxer: Do what?
Bachelor: Remind me of a man.
The film-makers clearly intended the parallel as an insider’s reference to the age gap between Jennifer and David.
Here’s the clip: