My local cinema was screening Labyrinth today, in tribute to David Bowie who passed away earlier this week. It’s a classic musical adventure in the 80’s genre of young person is drawn into a magical adventure (The Never Ending Story, Flight of the Navigator, The Princess Bride).
This 1986 film was directed by the late, great Jim Henson and was arguably his greatest work as a director. Henson also co-wrote the story with Dennis Lee (a composer).
Jennifer Connelly plays Sarah, a teenage girl with her mind in fantasies of labyrinths and mystical lands, reciting parts of a book called ‘Labyrinth’ featuring a Goblin King. As we meet her, she’s about to babysit her baby brother Toby, for her parents as they go out go for the evening.
Full of anxt and frustration, as Toby cries in the evening, she begins to wish that he wasn’t there, and then wishes that Jareth the Goblin King (David Bowie) in fact would take Toby away, away forever.
In a swirl of wind, and slamming doors, her wish comes true. And off we head into a story of adventure and fantasy, as Sarah attempts to navigate the labyrinth and pass beyond the Goblin city to reach the castle in the middle – where Jareth is holding Toby. She has 13 hours to succeed before Toby is theirs forever.
As she makes her way through the labyrinth, she encounters a number of strange characters (through the film, with the exception of Connelly and Bowie, virtually every character came out of Henson’s workshop), including Hoggle and Ludo who join her on her quest. From worms, to talking door knockers, to riddle asking twins, Sarah passes test after test as she attempts to rescue her brother, with Jareth attempting to thwart her.
Bowie performs a number of songs through the film, the highlight being the very catchy ‘Magic Dance’…
With its roots firmly in the ‘Wizard of Oz’ (we even see the book of it in Sarah’s bedroom) and Alice in Wonderland, its a wonderful children’s film with tales of friendship, forgiveness, helping others and standing up for what’s right.
One of the main set pieces in the film, and likely the most memorable, is based around the ‘Relativity’, the 1953 print by MC Escher, in which staircases flip and weave throughout the image.
In this we see Bowie walking them freely as he flips and turns, defying the laws of gravity, as Sarah attempts to rescue Toby before time runs out.
David Bowie made a number of films throughout his life with ‘The Man who fell to Earth’ and his performance as Andy Warhol in ‘Basquiat’ also standing out. I also thought he was great in his small role in ‘The Prestige’ as Nikola Testa. However in film, he will always be Jareth, the Goblin King.
So, ultimately, the film reminds us of who he was. An enigma, a man that could have been from a different planet entirely. The only man that could successfully navigate an MC Escher staircase.