Labyrinth (1986)
January 12, 2015 2:28 PM - Subscribe

CRFC9: The Constructed Reality Film Club is starting back up for the new year with a slight change in direction. 1986's Labyrinth tells the story of a young girl, Sarah, who is lost in her own fantasy world. When she asks for her baby brother to be taken away she gets more than she asked for, and must enter the Labyrinth of Jareth, The Goblin King, to get him back.
posted by codacorolla (42 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I can't actually talk about this in any sort of intellectual way because it was 1986, I was 9, and it was very formative.

Like, I know there's something that can be said about it, and I know that there's definitely something about reality and identity and accepting responsibility and abusive relationships, but then David Bowie appears with that mullet wig and that silver eyeshadow and those leggings, and suddenly, nope. I cannot think about anything.

I love you, Labyrinth.
posted by Katemonkey at 2:49 PM on January 12, 2015 [22 favorites]

"Would you like to come in for a cuppa?"
posted by orange swan at 3:39 PM on January 12, 2015

Can someone make the soundtrack autoplay when this page loads?

Also: Toby, the Baby from Labyrinth, Grows Up to Be a Goblin King
posted by roger ackroyd at 3:40 PM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

I also have way too much memory invested in this to look at it critically.

there's definitely something about reality and identity and accepting responsibility and abusive relationships

And also the danger of becoming a proto-Hoarder. IT'S ALL JUNK!
posted by psoas at 3:52 PM on January 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

It's impossible to be rational about this movie if you're a certain kind of person who saw it at a critical developmental stage. Like it's badly paced, the story of gaining responsibility makes no sense, and Sarah like ...barely grows as a person like the story clearly clearly wants her to and there are huge pools of narrative dead time in the middle and the less said about Shimmy Down the better.

But WHO CARES. OH GOD, ITS LABRYNTH, IT WAS THE LEADING CAUSE OF PUBERTY IN 1986. most folklore degrees in the US and Canada can be traced back to this movie gaining wide release. I heard a dance club remix of magic dance* playing in the wild like YESTERDAY.

Fun fact, if you're holding an alternate nerd dance party and elect a costume king and queen and have them dance to As The World Falls Down you can make so many 36 year olds cry openly. (This also works with The Sundays' cover of Wild Horses btw)

*Bowie totally mimes doing a bump in that song btw
posted by The Whelk at 4:20 PM on January 12, 2015 [12 favorites]

Did she say it...?
posted by tomboko at 4:43 PM on January 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

In other "where are they now?" news, the Creature Shop designer who both built the Ludo costume and also performed as the character, Ron Mueck, is now known for his gorgeous/unsettling hyper-realistic sculptures.

(My other Labyrinth trivia bit: Shortly before being hired for Star Trek:TNG, Gates McFadden worked as the chief puppet choreographer for the film.)
posted by Strange Interlude at 4:53 PM on January 12, 2015 [10 favorites]

Hogwart is played by Ernie sans his cute makeup.
posted by sammyo at 5:49 PM on January 12, 2015

Ah, I forgot to mention that this is currently streaming on Netlfix.
posted by codacorolla at 5:52 PM on January 12, 2015

The essay discussing how the theory of tge Labyrinth being in Sarah's imagination makes no sense when compared to the text was great. Especially the part where it talks about Henson claiming it was Sarah's imagination. It's a great example of how you can't look to the creator of a work to find out what's it about or what it means because even their perception can be clouded by what they meant to do or maybe what they were thinking about without actually expressing. The only thing you can rely on when thinking about a work is the text itself. I was briefly famous in my college Lit courses for smacking down any "fan theories" that didn't appear in the text. THE TEXT.

I also liked the essay because this movie horrified and depressed the sensitive little baby bleep. I was only 2 when it came out but we probably watched it on video a few years later. I didn't get any sense that it wasn't real. It just seemed a really shitty situation that she would probably never escape. Part of that distinctly 80s genre of "ugly people doing ugly things and saying ugly things to each other in ugly ways" that I still can't stand.
posted by bleep at 7:04 PM on January 12, 2015

Omg I just watched this not knowing it was on fanfare! (I'll be watching a lot of movies this week since I just had my gallbladder yanked out today.) Anyway! I was too young for this movie as it came out before I existed but it's pretty great. I also just rewatched the dark crystal about a week ago. I really enjoy the puppeteer work and character design. Actually watching it as an adult I wish there was a bit more story - but I feel like it's the way movies around that age were kinda scripted anyway. It's a classic though and you gotta love Bowie!
posted by Crystalinne at 8:47 PM on January 12, 2015

I went to see it at the movies and like so many others I think I hit puberty right then and there.

At Christmas a few months later the movie was out on VHS and I begged my parents to rent it because it was the best, it was totally suitable for my sisters aged 4 and 2 and they would love it.

Cue miserable screaming from the four-year-old and angry grumping from my parents.

But I got to watch it again so screw those guys.
posted by tracicle at 12:12 AM on January 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

I mean my read on it was always "hey responsibility shirking Sara with your fantasy novels and poofy dress? You want to live in a magical land of enchantment! Well you're going to get to! Good and hard! Muwahahahaha."
posted by The Whelk at 7:58 AM on January 13, 2015 [6 favorites]

My brother had a Labyrinth Machine for a while. It was a VCR with a copy of Labyrinth stuck in it. You could rewind and play it, but not get it out. It was a magical thing.
posted by yellowbinder at 8:05 AM on January 13, 2015 [28 favorites]

RE: the "This essay looks at what might be the sub-text behind the decoration in Sarah's room" link, I never noticed the set decoration, but the idea that Sarah's (dead) mother might have been an actress involved in an IRL Bowie character is pretty compelling. That definitely makes the film a lot darker.
posted by codacorolla at 8:45 AM on January 13, 2015

I mean my read on it was always "hey responsibility shirking Sara with your fantasy novels and poofy dress? You want to live in a magical land of enchantment! Well you're going to get to! Good and hard! Muwahahahaha."

Hey, she was REHEARSING for a play. That's totally different!

When faced with the question of deciding between the realistic or the magical, one must always go with the magical.

a'ight, I've got to watch this again before I can make any serious claims...
posted by Atreides at 9:34 AM on January 13, 2015

Part of that distinctly 80s genre of "ugly people doing ugly things and saying ugly things to each other in ugly ways" that I still can't stand.

Distinctly 80s? Basically everything that Shonda Rhimes puts on air would dispute that, I think, but since she's my age I guess you could blame that on the 80s.
posted by phearlez at 12:55 PM on January 13, 2015

Shonda Rhimes is more about pretty people and their ugly ways which is more of a 90s thing.
posted by bleep at 1:50 PM on January 13, 2015

I assumed you must be talking about internal beauty because I don't see how you call Bowie and Connelly physically ugly.
posted by phearlez at 2:13 PM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Well Bowie had that eye makeup and spandex crotch going on, and Connelly was the Goldie Locks/Marilyn Munster figure. But mostly yes.
posted by bleep at 3:27 PM on January 13, 2015

What a fun movie. I watched the Dark Crystal for the first time much, much later than Labyrinth, and it was immediately apparent upon finishing it that, as much as one might argue that Jim Henson couldn't really tell a coherent story in Labyrinth, he had certainly come a long way since the Dark Crystal, which requires an instruction manual to understand much of at all.

I saw Labyrinth for the first time in elementary school (in the '90s) and obviously adored it like anyone else who did so. Obviously gonna have to re-watch it again soon...
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:16 PM on January 13, 2015

My high school best friend became my best friend largely due to us both being firmly Team Gareth.

"Everything I've done, I've done for you"

I know I definitely *could* be embarrassed that my teenage self was ALL about Labyrinth Bowie (well, all Bowie), but I feel like the late 90s didn't have anything better to offer me!
posted by Swisstine at 8:48 PM on January 13, 2015


posted by homunculus at 9:19 PM on January 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

ALso, in talking about the movie, said he really tried to go for a teen girl's ideal of a rock star magical prince figure, aloof and arrogant and menacing but oh so FASCINATING - which I think he nailed and so does everyone else.
posted by The Whelk at 9:22 PM on January 13, 2015 [12 favorites]

FWIW, I forced my 13-year-old daughter to watch this when it showed up on Netflix streaming a few months ago, and she loves it at least as much as I ever did, so rest assured it still holds up, at least amongst the teen girl squad.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:03 PM on January 14, 2015

My family blames me for instilling an obsession with this movie in my niece.

I never admit this is true, but if it were true - I would have no regrets.

I will also never admit that there is a plan to get my younger niece just as obsessed in a year or two.

posted by Julnyes at 12:39 PM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

and the less said about Shimmy Down the better.

That's the first scene I ever saw! It was on cable, and I paused between channel because PUPPETS, and then stare at it with interest and soon with growing horror and surprise and dismay as the heads and limbs started popping off. It was years before I saw the rest of it...
posted by mochapickle at 4:02 PM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh my gods, I love this movie more than I can say. Jareth SET my attraction to long haired guys in makeup. I literally watched this multiple times every other weekend for months at a time, and remain bitter my mom wouldn't take me to see it in a theater.

I absolutely can't be rational about it. I want Sarah's dress more than I can say (she had to be driven to the set in the back of a truck because she couldn't sit in it!) and it probably explains a lot about me if I say this movie and The Last Unicorn were pretty much central to my adolescent development.

I actually found Mirror Mask an acceptable, modernish equivalent Buildingsroman and I have a mental file which holds those, Legend and The Dark Crystal in it as a particular genre of dreamy, fantasy dark stories.

(I like Shimmy Down and the Fierys. One of my mental AUs had Sarah remaining there, in the land of no responsibility. Another was set years later, but it was me not Sarah, and there was no little brother involved, and well... yeah.... Bowie was instrumental in my development.)
posted by Deoridhe at 11:12 PM on January 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

My entire teen and adult life my standard greeting to friends has always been 'Ello.

I've yet to meet someone who came back with the right response.

I'm still hopeful though.

So yeah I guess this film was formative in many, many ways.
posted by Faintdreams at 3:40 AM on January 15, 2015

Hogwart is played by Ernie sans his cute makeup.

posted by Night_owl at 6:21 AM on January 15, 2015 [8 favorites]

I'm another one who was launched into puberty by this movie - I was eleven, and the soundtrack wound up being one of my four cassette tapes so I listened to it constantly. We were late getting to the theater so I never knew the setup of the movie - I think we walked in as she was getting bitten by the fairy.

Even now, watching it as an adult I tend not to be very critical of it - if there are dead spots in the pacing I don't notice them. It was absolutely one of those "right thing at the right time" pieces of culture that just knocks down your doors and walks in. And yeah, I'm fairly sure I had many daydreams about staying in the Labyrinth and becoming Goblin Queen.

I can't link to it currently, but an artist named Pika-la-Cynique has a long-running webcomic over on DeviantArt called Girls Next Door, which features a college-age Sarah rooming with Christine from Phantom, with the boys upstairs, also roommates. It's a jokey, fun, in-joke packed comic (not having watched most of the properties the artist loves, I miss many of them, but they're still fun) and I love how she toys with Jareth and Sarah's relationship now that Sarah is older and more wise to Jareth's bullshit. Also, some of her standalone artwork of the two make me tingly and happy, so there's that.

Oh, and also also, if you're a fan of Harmontown, a little while back they had a Jareth Halloween where almost everyone dressed up as Jareth and then went out to a bar. Jeff went all-out on his costume, too.
posted by PussKillian at 8:13 AM on January 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Just as a heads up, we'll be returning on Tuesday (due to some travel plans) with The Game, which isn't streaming for free, but can be rented for about 2.99 on Amazon, or checked out for free at a local library.
posted by codacorolla at 2:04 PM on January 15, 2015

A few years back I participated in two LARPS that were semi-sequels to Labyrinth, our at least set in the same world. We had an excellent Jareth, who had the apertures down perfectly, and it's still evidently considered one of the best LARPS the convention put on. Evidently there is a lot of food memories for Labyrinth.
posted by happyroach at 2:51 PM on January 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

I can link now, so here's the first page of the Girls Next Door comic (and wow, is it funny to see her early art and note how it's changed as the years have gone by), a BBC Sherlock parody, full-on glittery sexiness (mildly NSFW for non-explicit nudity) , Sarah's sassy t-shirt and a piece titled "Untenable.

I still listen to the soundtrack, by the way. It is very of it's time but not in a bad way, or maybe I've listened to it too many times. But while I still wish Ladyhawke could have a new score written for it, I think the music works.
posted by PussKillian at 6:53 PM on January 15, 2015

Hmmm. I was so primed to love this movie: I was a HUGE Bowie fan, AND a huge fantasy fan and loved Brian Froud and the Dark Crystal, but... even then there was something that just didn't click about it. For some reason my discomfort centered around Jennifer Connelly who, even at the time, I just didn't feel pulled off the whole interacting with puppets thing. And the baby. There was something that really weirder me out about the baby. And Bowie. I mean, I was a kid, but I'd also heard The Man Who Sold the World. I was like, What happened to this guy? And what's up with his Tina Turner hair? I think I actually appreciate it more now than I did then, but I'm not sure I could make it through the whole thing now. I tried to show it to my kid when she was like 7 and she was totally freaked out by the first scene and we never made it.
posted by latkes at 7:56 PM on February 2, 2015

Shepherd and I are seeing a double feature of Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal this Sunday as part of a Digital Film Fest series that Canadian chain Cineplex is running over the next two weeks.
posted by Kitteh at 8:33 AM on February 4, 2016

Awesome. That's a fantastic pairing.
posted by Atreides at 2:25 PM on February 4, 2016

I stayed out of this thread when it was fresh because Bowie had just died, I absolutely adore every moment of this movie and I have very little patience for OMG 1980S CHEESE and OMG BOWIE HAD A DONG. (I like dongs fine, but jeez folks. If it launched your puberty I guess you could have done a lot worse, but tbh I always assumed he was wearing a codpiece anyhow.)

To me the pacing and symbolism of the film is just right, it's all been thought out very carefully. I've always thought the Chilly Down scene is one of the most underrated parts. Yes, the blue screen effects are inexplicably rough, but the song rocks and those weirdos are a perfect symbol for the bad crowd you can hook up with when you're a teen. They're literally telling her to just take off her head and have a good time!

"ugly people doing ugly things and saying ugly things to each other in ugly ways"

My goodness, that sentence is wrong in more ways than I can count. (Well, in at least four ways, but probably more.)

Anyway, for people who love this movie and things like it, the Labyrinth of Jareth ball is a must if you're anywhere near LA this August. It's a sprawling annual event kind of inspired by the film, and it's more of a masquerade ball than a fan con. You'll see one or two people dressed like characters from the movie, but mostly people wear fabulous original outfits and there are puppets and stilt monsters and fire breathers and stuff. I've had some of the best nights of my life at this thing, but sadly this year it's almost certain I won't be going due to health issues. Somebody go and tell me how wonderful it was, because it will be.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:32 AM on February 5, 2016

I stayed out of this thread when it was fresh because Bowie had just died

Look again, Ursula: the thread was started a year ago. I don't think all those January 2015 posters would have been so carefree in January 2016.

It wouldn't have been missing a davidbowie tag if it were from last month, either.
posted by rory at 7:25 AM on February 8, 2016

One of the coolest and best things about seeing Labyrinth on the big screen yesterday were adults of our generation who saw the movie as a kid bringing their own kids to see it. I look forward to a whole new generation of children realizing that David Bowie was a crucial part of their sexual awakening.
posted by Kitteh at 7:47 AM on February 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

I was 14 in 1986, and I considered myself too old for muppets and fairy tales. I preferred sophisticated fantasy like Tolkein. So I only just saw this now. It truly is perfect. I mean, it's incredibly flawed, but its flaws are perfect. It's so cheesy and muppety and fun and scary and creative. It's so vast and loose and silly, but incredibly intimate and serious, too. The effects run the gamut from cheap to amazing (sometimes both in the same shot). The acting is mannered and overdramatic, but perfectly suited to the needs of the story.

Literally my only complaint is that Ludo's rock power saved the day too many times. Quit hogging the spotlight, Ludo! This movie deserves to be considered as much a classic as Wizard of Oz, and I'm happy to hear that (at least to a certain age of folks) it is!
posted by rikschell at 10:48 AM on March 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

For other latecomers, here is an archival link to the essay linked at the bottom of the post.
posted by thedward at 11:33 AM on June 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

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