This weekend I took Daughter #1 to the Curzon Cinema in Clevedon (Europe’s oldest functioning cinema, don’t you know?) to experience a special screening of the 1986 Jim Henson classic, Labyrinth.
Much like, as the Bristol Evening Post recently rather sneeringly put it, quite a few viewers ‘of a certain age’, Labyrinth was memorable for me, and has been for many years. The first time I saw it wasn’t in the cinema, it was at home. I was twelve, or thereabouts. I can remember exactly which home, which telly, and exactly where I sat for the duration of the film. I also remember getting cross because it must have been on over tea time, and so I was called to the table before the film ended. I kept getting down from the table and darting around the corner to watch it. I also remember being disappointed with the ending. At twelve, I hadn’t quite grasped the significance of Sarah’s victory.
I watched it many, many times again over the years, but always on TV, video and later DVD and streaming video. Every time I noticed different things about it, as was inevitable because there’s just so much to look at in every frame. This time, in the cinema, I noticed the face of Jareth above the Bog of Eternal Stench that I hadn’t spotted before. Last time, a couple of weeks ago when I showed it to my daughters for the first time, it was the milk bottles on the Goblin King’s castle doorstep! Don’t believe me? Here they are…
However, in all the intervening years between the first time and today, I’d never seen it in the cinema, so it was too good an opportunity to miss when the Curzon arranged a memorial screening. And from the moment the opening credits rolled, the goosebumps kept coming and coming. I know that film inside out; I could probably recite the dialogue alongside it (thankfully, for the two friends who came with me, I restrained myself!). But the best thing about seeing and hearing it on the big screen was that I felt like I was part of a viewing experience; an affectionate, good hearted one that mixed fans my age of the film (and their children) with those who were there because it was Bowie, and total Labyrinth virgins.
The knowing titters from those who, like me, had seen the film a million times before mingled with the genuine surprise and delight of those who were seeing it for the first time. These were particularly evident during the film’s final confrontation scene between Jareth and Sarah, where Bowie’s crotch takes on a role of it’s own! I did find myself tearing up at the end, though, too. Partly because of the sadness of David Bowie’s recent death, but also because it seemed like such an emotional thing to see a film that means so much to me in such a lovely setting. And since I was there, also with my elder daughter, there was the hope that she’d grow to love the film as much as I do.
So why Labyrinth? Well, as a child/tweenager it was being able to put myself into Sarah’s shoes and be part of the adventure. I loved the sidekicks, and Jareth was the ultimate villain. ‘That dress’ in the ballroom was something I coveted. As I grew older, more teenaged, I, like quite a few other young women, began to notice that the Goblin King was a little more than just a cartoon cutout villain; he was quite an interestingly shaped man. And suddenly, those tights (and what was in them!) took on a whole new significance. This won’t come as a surprise to proper Bowie fans, I’m sure, to whom the Thin White Duke’s sartorial choices often revealed a lot more than was strictly proper. Jareth became a figure of intrigue; of adolescent lust; of impossible, but safe, seductiveness. Yes, I thought; if I’d been in Sarah’s loafers, I’d totally have taken him up on his ‘fear me, love me and I will be your slave’ offer. And bugger the baby brother! And the ballroom scene became representative of that transition from childhood to adulthood; playing with grown up things while still doing the growing up, myself.
As an adult (well, a university student!), the dawn of the internet meant an explosion in fandom across a number of genres. I knew about fanfiction as I’d been writing my own for a number of years for other fandoms, but suddenly realising that I wasn’t alone in my appreciation of texts like Labyrinth, and actually reading the work that other writers put out there opened my eyes. And there was a lot of it! Then I discovered fanart, and later fanvids…and the rest is history.
It’s comforting to know that I’m not alone in my appreciation of Labyrinth; and even though it took the sad news of David Bowie’s death for me to realise a dream and see this film on the big screen, it was an experience I’ll never forget. Goblin King, I salute you…and may you live within us forever.